People v. ConAgra Grocery Products Company/Atlantic Richfield Company

Long-outlawed lead paint is not a public nuisance

Cases > Property Rights > People v. ConAgra Grocery Products Company/Atlantic Richfield Company
Loss: U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case
Case Court: California Court of Appeal

The State of California brought a lawsuit in 2000 to abate the alleged public nuisance caused by five companies’ manufacture and sale of lead paint at a time when lead paint was legal. The trial court found three of the companies to be liable for creating a public nuisance and ordered them to pay over a billion dollars into an abatement fund. As a consequence, the court opinion declares almost all properties in California that have lead paint on them to be per se public nuisances – exposing property owners to massive tort liability. The companies appealed and PLF filed an amicus brief arguing that argue that declaring lead paint to be a public nuisance violated the due process rights of both the paint companies and California property owners.

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What’s at stake?

  • The doctrine of public nuisance is so vague that no legal authority actually knows what it means. If not strictly cabined, government may use the doctrine to violate individuals’ due process rights.
  • If sellers of a legal product may be held liable for causing a public nuisance, decades after engaging in activity that was lawful at the time, businesses will face constant uncertainty and a disincentive to operate in California.

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