Environmental civil rights claims rarely succeed because of the high bar for proving discriminatory or other intentional conduct against governmental officials.

But class actions brought over Flint, Mich., residents’ poisoned drinking water may prove to be the exception, given the egregiousness of the conduct alleged against state and local authorities—some of whom also currently face criminal charges.

The environmental tragedy in Flint could lead to a shift in favor of environmental civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. §1983 which have typically floundered, Professor Noah Hall at Wayne State University Law School, Detroit, told Bloomberg Law.

“Great facts make for good...