SACRAMENTO - The Supreme Court of California has denied review of an approximate $600 million judgment that holds major paint companies responsible for remediating lead paint across the state.
According to sources familiar with the litigation, the high court indicated it would not take up The People of the State of California v. Atlantic Richfield Co., et al., a case that originated in Santa Clara County Superior Court nearly two decades ago.
Paint companies Sherwin Williams, NL Industries and ConAgra had been seeking to overturn a November ruling out of the California Sixth District Appellate Court, which largely upheld judgment entered by Santa Clara Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg.
Following a protracted bench trial in 2013, Kleinberg ordered the companies to fund the investigation and removal of lead paint from homes in seven of California’s most heavily populated counties — Alameda, Los Angeles, Monterey, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano and Ventura, and three of its largest cities — Oakland, San Diego and San Francisco.
While the Sixth District trimmed Kleinberg's judgment by holding the paint companies liable only for homes built pre-1950 at a cost of approximately $600 million—rather than homes built pre-1980 at a cost of $1.15 million—it did not limit the trial court’s definition of lead paint as a public nuisance, which still applies to all pre-1981 homes.
Courts in other states have rejected similar public nuisance claims. In Ohio, Rhode Island, Missouri, New Jersey, Illinois, New York and Wisconsin, cases were either resolved at the state Supreme Court level or voluntarily dismissed.
It was not immediately clear how the decision would impact the Healthy Homes and Schools Act, a measure proponents are seeking to put on the November ballot that would eliminate liability of manufacturers for claims that lead paint causes a public nuisance in cases still pending after Nov. 1, 2017 - which would include the case the high court ruled on Wednesday.