The Camp Lejeune Justice Act Story: Bringing the Cases to Court

The Government’s wrongdoings at Camp Lejeune impacted tens of thousands of individuals. The Marines who stepped up to fight for our country, their families who stood by in support, and the educators, cafeteria workers, and cleaners employed on base have experienced life-changing diagnoses and illnesses that resulted from exposure to the contaminated water the Government provided on the base.

Until Congress passed the Camp Lejeune Justice Act in 2022, there was no legal pathway to hold the Government accountable.

“The Camp Lejeune Justice Act does not exist to punish our Government, it exists to allow everyday citizens to do something that, up till now, has been virtually impossible to do—hold our Government responsible for its bad conduct. Our country exists on ideals such as honor and integrity, but our Government does not always live up to the expectations of its citizens. If our country is not held accountable then we eventually evolve into a tyranny.”

– Ed Bell 


Though the Camp Lejeune Justice Act was passed in 2022, this long-overdue legislation grew out of a tragedy that began nearly 70 years earlier. The history of water contamination on the Camp Lejeune military base began in 1953 and continued until 1987; these toxins compromised the health and well-being of countless people living and working on the grounds. The Government concealed the issue for years, allowing employees and residents to continue ingesting the water.

When the story of Camp Lejeune water contamination began unfolding, Ed Bell was asked to help. Ed knew this would be an uphill battle, but after hearing how the Government poisoned its own for decades, he was ready to join the fight. 

Legal Blockades for Camp Lejeune in Court

Ed assembled a team to help bring Camp Lejeune claims to the Courts. He knew this endeavor would require diving into complex legal theories and take hours of planning, but the injustices to America’s heroes deserved to be heard. 

In 2009, the first lawsuits were filed against the Government on behalf of military members harmed by contaminated water. As expected, the Government quickly filed Motions to Dismiss, continuing to avoid responsibility for concealing the water’s toxicity. 

At the time of the Camp Lejeune litigation proceedings, another contamination case, CTS Corp. v Waldburger et al., was being heard in court. CTS Corporation, the defendant, sold its property and ceased operations in 1987. The landowners and adjacent property owners were now suing CTS Corp., alleging damages from contamination that occurred during the business operations nearly 24 years earlier. CTS Corp. used the Statute of Repose as its defense to get the claim dismissed, which would set a precedent for Camp Lejeune litigations; the statute prevents subjecting defendants to a lawsuit brought more than 10 years after the last culpable act.

The Government cited the CTS Corp. case as the basis for its Motions to Dismiss the complaints because the damages had occurred well over 10 years earlier. The District Court accepted the Government’s Motion, dismissing the Camp Lejeune case, and citing North Carolina’s Statute of Repose. 

On appeal, the ruling went in favor of the Plaintiffs, but The Supreme Court reviewed and overturned the decision. Thankfully for the thousands of people now filing Camp Lejeune Justice Act claims, Ed Bell wasn’t easily dissuaded. This setback in the litigation showed the Government’s hand, giving Bell Legal insight into the defensive tactics for Camp Lejeune. 

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022

After countless years fighting for the Camp Lejeune Justice Act (CLJA) and advocating for all the unheard claims, Ed Bell and his team achieved what they set out to do: a change to the legal landscape from protecting the Government to protecting its people. 

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022 was passed with an unprecedented vote of 342–88 in the House of Representatives and a vote of 86–11 in the U.S. Senate. President Biden signed The Camp Lejeune Justice Act into law on August 10, 2022. This historic legislation leveled the playing field for those harmed by the toxic water on base, giving legal teams leverage to fight against years of injustices. 

Using the CLJA to Dismantle the Government’s Defenses

The CLJA offers a roadway to bring Camp Lejeune to the Courts and to pull down the pillars of the Government’s defense, one by one. 

1 | Statute of Repose

The Government used the North Carolina Statute of Repose to bar plaintiffs from bringing cases against them for harm that occurred at Camp Lejeune because the timeline for this incident—10 years—had lapsed per the statute.

The Government didn’t notify past residents of the contaminants they were exposed to while at Camp Lejeune until more than a decade later, long after the window closed per the Statute of Repose. These civilian employees and Marines didn’t know the source of their injuries or that time was running out to take legal action against the Government until it was too late. 

The CLJA includes language to protect the victims at Camp Lejeune stating:

“(3) STATUTE OF REPOSE.—Any applicable statute of repose does not apply to claims under this Act.”

These 16 words might be the most meaningful that people harmed by the toxins at Camp Lejeune have heard in decades. Because the Camp Lejeune Justice Act extended the eligibility timeline to file claims, many service members were given a renewed sense of hope.

2 | Statute of Limitations

Families and Marines at Camp Lejeune never suspected they would be poisoned while residing in Government-provided living quarters, but that’s exactly what happened to a countless number of men, women, and children. 

The statute of limitations in North Carolina is three years. For past residents of Camp Lejeune, this statute would expire long before they connected the dots between the contaminated water and the diagnoses they now faced. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act imposed a new Statute of Limitations, allowing claims to be filed even though the North Carolina Statute of Limitations had expired.

The CLJA  states:

“(1) IN GENERAL.—The statute of limitations for an action under this section is the later of—
          (A) 2 years from the date on which the harm occurred or was discovered, whichever is later; or
          (B) 180 days from the date on which the claim is denied under section 2675 of title 28, United States Code

 (2) SPECIAL RULE.—In the case of harm which was discovered prior to the date of the enactment of this section, the statute of limitations is the later of—
          (A) 2 years after the date of the enactment of this section; or
          (B) 180 days from the date on which the claim is denied under section 2675 of title 28, United States Code.”

The updated Camp Lejeune Justice Act eligibility requirements will allow many Marines and their families to proceed with administrative claims to join the lawsuit.

3 | Governmental Immunity/Discretionary Immunity

The Government is protected from being sued for mistakes by federal employees when making choices or using their judgment to do their jobs. In the case of Camp Lejeune, the Government intentionally concealed the contaminated water. 

Under the CLJA, the Government is barred from asserting a defense premised on Governmental or discretionary immunity as stated in this section of the Justice Act:

“(e) IMMUNITY LIMITATION.—The United States may not assert any claim to immunity in an action under this section which would otherwise be available under section 2680(a) of title 28, United States Code.”

4 | The Feres Doctrine

Under the Feres Doctrine, The Supreme Court established that the Government is not liable for injuries to service members when the harm is related to their service. The Camp Lejeune Justice Act made an eligibility exception, allowing veterans and civilian employees to sue for harm caused by the contaminated water. 

The Camp Lejeune Justice Act dismantled the Government’s Feres Doctrine defense with the inclusion of this language:

“ (a) IN GENERAL.—An individual, including a veteran, or the legal representative of such an individual, who resided, worked, or was otherwise exposed (including in utero exposure) for not less than 30 days during the period beginning August 1, 1953, and ending December 31, 1987, to water at Camp Lejeune that was supplied by the United States or on its behalf may bring an action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina to obtain appropriate relief for harm which—

(1) was caused by exposure to the water;

(2) was associated with exposure to the water;

(3) was linked to exposure to the water; or

(4) the exposure to the water increased the likelihood of such harm.” 

Causation for Camp Lejeune Claims

Most cases adhere to a more likely than not causation standard, but Camp Lejeune Justice Act claims are different. Anyone harmed by Camp Lejeune water during the contamination period needs only to meet an “equipoise standard,” which requires sufficient evidence that a causal relationship is at least as likely as not

Camp Lejeune Justice Act claims follow these causation standards:

“(c) Burdens and Standard of Proof.–

         (1) In general.–The burden of proof shall be on the party filing the action to show one or more relationships between the water at Camp Lejeune and the harm.

         (2) Standards.–To meet the burden of proof described in paragraph (1), a party shall produce evidence showing that the relationship between exposure to the water at Camp Lejeune and the harm is–

                 (A) sufficient to conclude that a causal relationship exists; or

                 (B) sufficient to conclude that a causal relationship is at least as likely as not.”

In Ed Bell’s words, the updated language used for causation standards is monumental because:

“This standard has never been used in any legislation or any litigation in the history of our country. This is a historical precedent which allows a victim to have an equal footing in Court, rather than the unfair standard of more likely than not. It is our hope that the “equipoise standard” will be considered by all Courts as a way to replace an antiquated burden of proof.” 

– Ed Bell  

The passage of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act offers hope to those seeking retribution for the Government’s wrongdoings. Though the story of Camp Lejeune is heartbreaking, the law is finally giving military families legal rights to stand up against these injustices.