ConAgra Grocery Products v. California
In 2000, the State of California sued ConAgra, Atlantic Richfield Co. (ARCO), and other companies alleging that their manufacture and sale of then-legal lead paint constituted a public nuisance. The claim went to trial in 2013 and the court found the companies liable. It ordered a far-reaching abatement plan that declares a large portion of houses built before 1980 to be nuisances. If property owners enroll in the “abatement” plan, the government coordinates with them to conduct an inspection. The government keeps a list of all properties that do not enroll, which will be “deferred for actionable lead hazard control” until the property owner vacates or sells the property, unless a child is deemed at risk. In effect, the court declared millions of private homes to be a public nuisance. The companies appealed.
PLF filed an amicus brief highlighting the effect of the trial court’s opinion on the state’s property owners whose homes or other holdings are now declared to be per se public nuisances. The owners had no notice or opportunity to participate in proceedings yet their property now has a lead paint-tinted cloud over it. Any property owner who declines to participate in the abatement plan exposes himself to significant tort liability and dramatically reduced property value for maintaining a known public nuisance on the property. As with the corporate defendants that sold legal products, the property owners engaged in no wrongful behavior and must not be punished by judicial decree.
The decision from the U.S. Supreme Court was unfavorable in that the cert petition was denied.