KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The company that owns a packaging plant in Kalamazoo and state officials have asked a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit filed by neighbors who allege the plant caused their health problems.
Attorneys for Graphic Packaging International and with the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, which is representing the Michigan environmental and health departments, state officials and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, argue the claims laid out in the lawsuit are nonspecific and don’t meet the required standards set in law, particularly the Clean Air Act.
The plant at the center of the lawsuit in the GPI facility on North Pitcher Street north of East Paterson Street in Kalamazoo’s Northside neighborhood. Residents have long complained about the smell coming from the plant. The state has been monitoring it for more than a decade and it has been served with several odor violation notices. In February, GPI was fined more than $100,000 and given a compliance plan to reduce the odor problems. In May, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services agreed the odors have caused health problems like headaches, nausea and eye irritation.
The 160-page lawsuit filed by Northside neighbors in June argues that pollution from GPI led to “wrongful deaths, irreparable bodily harm, assaults, batteries, severe emotional distress, and regular nuisances,” specifically citing the 2015 death of Michael Chandler of cancer and the 2017 death of 17-year-old Laprace Stegall of an asthma attack. The lawsuit also claims discrimination, citing historical redlining and zoning decisions that allowed plants to be built in the majority Black community.
In a motion to dismiss filed Friday, GPI’s attorneys derided the plaintiff’s claims as “specious” and said they are “wholly baseless.”
“The legal reasons for dismissal range from statute of limitations, statutes which do not contain private causes of action, statutes which apply only to government actors, failure to satisfy requisite statutory pre-suit notice requirements, and a failure to allege all the elements of a particular claim or cause of action,” the motion reads in part.
The attorneys say that the lawsuit, which they characterize as a “shotgun complaint,” doesn’t provide any specifics about how and when each of the 43 plaintiffs listed in the suit were allegedly injured and how it may have been GPI’s fault.
The GPI lawyers also noted that the complaint says one of the GPI employees named as a defendant is the brother of a state senator — but they say he’s not. The two men, Paul McCann and Sen. Sean McCann, are not related and have never met, the attorneys say.
The attorneys for the state departments and leaders also argue they are immune from the lawsuit under the Eleventh Amendment.