TRENTON, NJ - A judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by 25 New Jersey cities and counties against former manufacturers of lead paint and pigments, saying the municipalities should be responsible for enforcing laws that ensure buildings are properly maintained and free of hazards.

In their suit, the municipalities were pursuing the "public-nuisance" claim employed in the state of Rhode Island's lawsuit against former lead paint and pigment manufacturers, and were seeking to force the companies to pay for the removal of lead paint from buildings.

In her ruling, however, Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Marina Corodemus said the cities should assume that responsibility. The judge also said that the local government entities are not permitted to proceed with their complaints to recover damages from manufacturers of a legal product alleged to have created a public nuisance.

The judge also agreed with the defendants' claim that harm caused by lawful products should generally arise under the domain of product liability law, not in a public-nuisance suit.

Chuck Moellenberg, an attorney for the Sherwin-Williams Co., said the ruling was in line with state law that holds landlords responsible for maintaining properties and preventing hazards from old lead paint. "I think this opinion reinforces what the legislature has done and says that the cities and counties will not be permitted to interfere with the legislative framework," Moellenberg said.

The other defendants in the case are American Cyanamid Co., Atlantic Richfield Co., ConAgra Grocery Products Co., Cytec Industries Inc., DuPont Co., Millennium Inorganic Chemicals Inc., and NL Industries Inc.

The suit had been initiated by the city of Newark; 20 other cities and four counties joined later. The suit had sought abatement of lead paint from all housing and all public buildings in each jurisdiction and punitive damages from all of the defendants.