This Article focuses on litigation arising out of contaminated drinking water in Flint, Michigan, lead paint in New York City public housing, and harms to young people from the impacts of climate change. At the heart of each case is a claim that state officials violated the plaintiffs’ substantive due process rights by creating or enhancing an environmental danger and then deliberately failing to mitigate the risk to the plaintiffs. Although the plaintiffs characterize their claims in similar fashion, the three cases are not likely to enjoy the same success as they move through the courts.
The scholarly commentary thus far does not offer satisfying answers to why plaintiffs might state a claim against officials for contaminated drinking water but not for an unstable climate. Although these cases involve novel applications of substantive due process doctrine, scholars have yet to examine exactly if and how they depart from other substantive due process cases. To fill this gap in the literature, this Article seeks to situate these cases in existing doctrine. In doing so, it exposes doctrinal confusion regarding which standards and tests apply to state-created danger claims. In addition, to provide courts with necessary guidance, this Article proposes a framework for state-created danger claims, limited by established common law principles and grounded in the important distinction between challenges to official misconduct and challenges to governmental law or policy.