Vol. XLIV No. 1

A Narrowing of Section 1983 Claims: How Gonzaga Has Limited Recovery for Victims of Lead Poisoning in Federal Court

Abstract: Dellita Johnson brought a claim against the City of Detroit on behalf of her minor son, asserting that her son sustained lead poisoning from the public housing unit in which they lived. She brought claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the deprivation of federal rights created under provisions of the United States Housing Act, the Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act, and administrative regulations created under those statutes. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s dismissal of Ms. Johnson’s claims, holding that the applicable provisions of the United States Housing and the Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act do not contain rights-creating language sufficient to bring a § 1983 claim. The court also held that regulations promulgated pursuant to the statutes could not create enforceable rights on their own for purposes of § 1983. This comment argues that based on the Gonzaga v. Doe precedent, the Sixth Circuit reached the correct legal conclusion; however, Gonzaga has far-reaching negative implications on the individuals for whom these statutes were designed to protect.

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