Just before the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Brad Pitt said he got a “swell of pride” whenever he drove past the colorful homes that his Make It Right Foundation built in the Lower 9th Ward after the storm.
Three years later, Pitt’s attorneys are arguing that as far as liability for the now leaky, moldy, structurally deficient homes goes, he has nothing to do with them.
In a legal filing on Monday, Pitt’s lawyers said the actor should be dismissed from a lawsuit filed by aggrieved Make it Right homeowners, who the lawyers say have not mustered “a single factual allegation that Mr. Pitt made any promise” to any of them about the houses.
Pitt’s legal team is asking U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon to drop Pitt's name from the list of defendants in the lawsuit, which the homeowners filed in Orleans Parish Civil District Court in September. In October, it was moved to federal court.
The class-action lawsuit accuses Pitt and his foundation of unfair trade practices, breach of contract and fraud in the construction of the more than 100 houses clustered in the Lower 9th Ward near the Claiborne Avenue bridge over the Industrial Canal.
Pitt, a onetime New Orleans resident, decided to help the devastated Lower 9th Ward community rebuild in 2007. His foundation listed $3.4 million in contributions in 2015, the most recent year for which figures are available.
By 2009, the foundation became aware of problems with its houses, it admitted in a recent filing. The homeowners allege that Pitt — as the founder and director of the foundation — must have been aware of the problems as well and should have warned them.
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The homeowners said that Pitt "promised he would build quality, sustainable, green, safe and healthy homes designed to withstand hurricane-force winds, promises upon which the homeowners detrimentally relied. ... Pitt claimed personal credit for the rebuilding effort and Mr. Pitt benefited from the significant free publicity he received."
But Pitt’s lawyers say he was only the director of the foundation and thus not legally responsible to individual homeowners.
Although Pitt once touted the houses and their exotic designs in interviews with the press, his lawyers now say those statements do not increase his legal liability.
“While plaintiffs urge … that certain generic and innocuous statements Mr. Pitt allegedly made to the press somehow give rise to claims against him individually, this is simply unsupportable,” the attorneys said.
The case is still at an early stage. The judge has not indicated when he will rule on the request from Pitt’s lawyers to drop him from the case.
However, Fallon has set a Jan. 9 hearing to consider a request from the homeowners to return the case to state court, where they could face a more favorable audience of jurors if it goes to trial.
Meanwhile, in September the Make It Right Foundation filed a lawsuit of its own against John C. Williams, the executive architect for the dozens of homes. Repairing the homes could cost $20 million, the foundation said.
“I helped create it, so I’m responsible,” Williams told NBC News before the lawsuit was filed. “That means I’m gonna track them down and make it right.”