Marissa Jackson Sow, ‘Coming to Terms: Applying Contract Theory to the Detroit Water Shutoffs’

After the City of Detroit underwent financial takeover and filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history in 2013, the city’s emergency manager encouraged mass water shutoffs as a way of making the city’s water utility a more attractive asset for sale. The sale never took place, but the water shutoff, too, became the largest ever in American history, with over 141,000 homes subjected to water disconnections over a period of over six years. The governor of the State of Michigan ordered that the shutoffs be temporarily suspended for the duration of the COVID-19 health emergency in March 2020, and that water be restored to homes that had been disconnected from water services.

Human and civil rights activists and health officials have long sought the end of the shutoff campaign based on its disproportionate impact upon Black people, its subjection of people to sub-human living conditions and serious health risks, and its ineffectiveness. Pleading violations of civil and human rights laws, however, has proven unavailing; even condemnations from the United Nations have not sufficed to convince the City of Detroit or the State of Michigan to put a permanent end to the water shutoffs, their lack of success and high human cost notwithstanding …

Jackson Sow, Marissa, Coming to Terms: Applying Contract Theory to the Detroit Water Shutoffs (August 30, 2020). New York University Law Review Online (forthcoming 2021).

First posted 2020-10-12 19:42:48

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