Supreme Court denies Flint officials' request to block lawsuit over water crisis

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By Pete Williams  with NBC News Politics
Image: Federal State Of Emergency Declared In Flint, Michigan Over Contamin
Army National Guard Specialist David Brown loads bottled water into waiting cars at a fire station on Jan. 21, 2016 in Flint, Michigan.   -   Copyright  Sarah Rice Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Friday denied a request from four Flint, Michigan officials who asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block lower court rulings that said they could be sued over lead contamination in the water supply.

Their motion was directed to Justice Sotomayor, who handles such appeals from that region. Without explanation, as is the usual practice, she denied their request.

The officials involved in the water crisis argued that they should be immune from a liability suit brought by a Flint woman, Shari Guertin, who said she and her minor daughter suffered injuries from drinking and bathing in water contaminated with lead. After a federal judge refused to throw the lawsuit out, the officials appealed.

A three-judge panel ruled against them in January, saying the officials "created the Flint Water environmental disaster and then intentionally attempted to cover up their grievous decision." The full Sixth Circuit declined last month to take the case, leaving the panel decision intact.

The four asked the Supreme Court Thursday to put a hold on those rulings, which would have blocked the lawsuits while they pursued a full-blown Supreme Court appeal. It is that request that Justice Sotomayor denied.

The civil lawsuit is separate from any criminal cases. On Thursday, Michigan prosecutors dropped all pending charges against a group of state and local officials accused of a variety of crimes arising from the water crisis.