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Little Willie Center sues city over mold allegations

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The Little Willie Center, whose office is on West Fifth Street, is suing the city of Greenville over mold exposure in a facility it rented from the city nearby between 2007-15.

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By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Two years after abandoning a lease agreement with the City of Greenville over allegations that city negligence endangered children and volunteers, the Little Willie Community Development Center has filed a class action lawsuit demanding compensation for medical treatment and screenings.

The suit filed Tuesday in Pitt County Superior Court argues the city neglected to remove known mold infestations from a facility the center rented annually for $1, placing volunteers and children the center cared for at risk. The case is filed as a joint action by the center and Marvin Arrington Jr., the center’s board chairman.

In addition to the named plaintiffs, the lawsuit includes a class action for all persons who were volunteering, working, attending or visiting the property between the years 2007 and 2015 and were harmed by the environmental conditions of the property.

According to documents filed by Inez de Ondarza Simmons, the Raleigh attorney representing the plaintiffs, a 2007 inspection of the building reported mold in the facility before the center moved in. Little Willie staff acquired acquired a copy of the inspection through public record requests.

According to Greenville City Attorney Emanual McGirt, the city has hired McAngus Goudelock & Courie LLC to defend it against the suit. No other comment from the city was immediately available. 

The documents say Arrington has developed a series of debilitating illnesses from his exposure to the mold conditions.

“Arrington suffered serious illnesses caused by the exposure to the toxigenic mold that remained on the property despite the city having actual knowledge of its presence for a period of seven to eight years that has caused him to become permanently and totally disabled,” the documents said.

The illnesses have been substantiated by experts that directly link them to the exposure of the toxigenic mold the city failed to remediate, the document said. 

The documents also say that several other former volunteers and clients of the center have reported a litany of symptoms and illnesses including chronic headaches, chronic pain, tremors, ear infections, upper respiratory problems, decreased cognition and attention, fatigue, drowsiness, allergies and general malaise.

“Members of the class unable to obtain testing have been living with the fear of not knowing if they had contracted an illness from the toxigenic mold they were exposed to or have been misdiagnosed,” the suit said.

The documents said the plaintiffs believe about 250 children and between 25-75 volunteers and workers have cause to be concerned and deserve medical screening and treatment.

The extent of damages sought by the plaintiffs is not clear. Court documents show they are petitioning the court to compensate both Arrington and the class in excess of $25,000, however the group has asked for upwards of $1 million in past talks with the city. 

Representatives from the center and their attorney’s office were not able to immediately respond. 

In 2015, city officials told The Daily Reflector that Pitt County Health Director John Morrow advised there is no specific medical screening that could determine if mold was the cause of illnesses reported by center staff, clients and volunteers.

Little Willie has provided low-cost after-school and summer programs for children in west Greenville since 1990. In 2007, the city agreed to lease the agency buildings in the old St. Gabriel Catholic Church property owned by the city for $1 a year. The agreement allowed the center to expand its services.

Mold was discovered in an upstairs room in one of the buildings, the old church rectory, by center staff in May 2015. A report compiled by LRC Indoor Testing and Research stated “extensive mold contamination” throughout the facility.

The city made repairs to the facility the following August, but center volunteers and officials not satisfied with the repairs and refused to move back into the rectory, instead opting to run a downsized version of their operations out of a smaller building on the premise. The center vacated the property the following February at the expiration of its lease.

During the same time period members of the center sent a 22-page resolution to the Greenville City Council and city, demanding millions in compensation for center employees and children for medical screening and treatment for a litany of illness that allegedly stemmed from mold exposure.

Contact Seth Gulledge at 329-9579 and Sgulledge@reflector.com 

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