Case: In re Descendants of African Slavery

01491 | U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

Filed Date: Oct. 25, 2002

Closed Date: April 7, 2011

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

In this action, plaintiffs who were formerly enslaved African-Americans or descendants of formerly enslaved African-Americans sued various corporate defendants for unjustly profiting off of the institution of slavery before, during, and after the Civil War. Beginning in 2002, plaintiffs filed three actions in the Eastern District of New York and one action in the the District of New Jersey. On October, 25, 2002, a panel of judges ordered these four cases, along with five pending tag-along actio…

In this action, plaintiffs who were formerly enslaved African-Americans or descendants of formerly enslaved African-Americans sued various corporate defendants for unjustly profiting off of the institution of slavery before, during, and after the Civil War. Beginning in 2002, plaintiffs filed three actions in the Eastern District of New York and one action in the the District of New Jersey. On October, 25, 2002, a panel of judges ordered these four cases, along with five pending tag-along actions in additional districts, to be consolidated as one multi-district litigation before Judge Charles S. Norgle, Sr. 231 F. Supp. 2d 1357.

On June 17, 2003, plaintiffs filed their first consolidated and amended complaint. In the consolidated complaint, plaintiffs sued eighteen corporate defendants alleging that the corporations were unjustly enriched through their complicity with the institution of slavery. Plaintiffs alleged ten causes of action against the corporate defendants including conspiracy to maintain the institution of slavery, crimes against humanity, piracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, conversion, and unjust enrichment. Plaintiffs also pursued claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1982, the Alien Torts Claims Act, and various state laws. As a remedy, Plaintiffs sought an accounting, the appointment of an independent historic commission, creation of a constructive trust, restitution, disgorgement, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorneys' fees.

On July 18, 2003, defendants filed a joint motion to dismiss the first consolidated and amended complaint claiming that (1) Plaintiffs failed to establish standing, (2) Plaintiffs' claims represented a non-justiciable political question, (3) Plaintiffs' claims failed to state a claim under the pleading standard, and (4) all of Plaintiffs' claims were time-barred.

On January 26, 2004, Judge Norgle issued an order granting defendants' motion to dismiss. 304 F. Supp. 2d 1027. Judge Norgle held that Plaintiffs failed to plead sufficient facts to establish constitutional standing because they failed to allege any specific connection between themselves and Defendants. Additionally, Judge Norgle concluded that Plaintiffs' claims for reparations represented a non-justiciable political question traditionally left to the legislative and executive branches to decide. Even though Judge Norgle had found that Plaintiffs lacked standing to assert their claims against Defendants, he proceeded to consider Plaintiffs' claims on the merits. He found that Plaintiffs failed to assert a claim, even under the liberal pleading standard, because they failed to allege facts to support their allegation that Defendants' were unjustly enriched by Plaintiffs' ancestors' labor. Finally, Judge Norgle held that the Statute of Limitations also constituted an independent basis for dismissal because Plaintiffs' claims arose from conduct that occurred over a hundred years earlier. Judge Norgle dismissed with case without prejudice, granting Plaintiffs leave to file a second amended complaint.

On April 5, 2004, Plaintiffs filed a second consolidated complaint. They alleged numerous counts including conspiracy, conversion, unjust enrichment, replevin, 42 U.S.C. § 1982, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and various state law unfair and deceptive practice claims. Plaintiffs sought punitive damages as well as equitable relief including an accounting, the imposition of a constructive trust, restitution for the value of Plaintiffs' ancestors' forced labor, restitution for the value of Defendants' unjust enrichment off of slavery, and the costs of the action.

On April 23, 2004, Defendants filed renewed motions to dismiss. On July 6, 2005, Judge Norgle granted Defendants' motion to dismiss, this time with prejudice. In his opinion, Judge Norgle held that Plaintiffs failed to adequately allege standing, that Plaintiffs' claims were foreclosed by political question doctrine, and that Plaintiffs' suits were untimely.

Plaintiffs appealed Judge Norgle's order to the 7th Circuit. In an opinion issued December 13, 2006, Judge Richard Posner affirmed in part and reversed in part the District Court's ruling. 471 F.3d 754. Judge Posner dismissed without prejudice one of the plaintiffs, Richard E. Barber, for lack of federal jurisdiction because he was not able to invoke diversity jurisdiction and did not allege any federal claims. As for the remaining Plaintiffs, Judge Posner affirmed the district court's dismissal, albeit modified to be without prejudice, on the basis of lack of standing.

Judge Posner qualified his holding with three conditions. First, he held that the plaintiffs claiming to sue in a representative capacity for their ancestors' estates were not subject to the objection that the lawsuits seek damages for third party injuries and just needed to prove injury to their ancestors. But even though this sub-group of Plaintiffs had a lower burden to establish standing, Judge Posner held that these Plaintiffs' claims were still barred on the merits by the applicable state statutes of limitations and therefore dismissed them with prejudice. Second, Judge Posner rejected the district court's decision to bar Plaintiffs' consumer protection-based claims and remanded these claims back to district court for further proceedings. Finally, Judge Posner provided a third qualification to his holding, which pertained to one of the suits consolidated as part of the MDL. The relevant suit was originally brought in California, and the plaintiffs wished to transfer their case back to California district court. Judge Posner held that Chicago district court was authorized to retain authority only to conduct pretrial proceedings of these claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1407 while it retained authority to oversee all other remanded claims for the duration of the litigation.

Following Judge Posner's opinion and order, multiple Plaintiffs filed petitions for writs of certiorari to the Supreme Court. The Court denied both petitions. 552 U.S. 941.

The last recorded activity on the docket occurred in 2011. As of October 2021, there is no reason to believe that the case remains open or active.

Summary Authors

Gabrielle Simeck (10/31/2021)

People


Judge(s)

Norgle, Charles Ronald Sr. (Illinois)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Afran, Bruce I. (New Jersey)

Bledsoe, Gary Lynn (Texas)

Cantrell, Harry E. Jr. (Louisiana)

Geller, Morse (New York)

Jean-Baptiste, Lionel (Illinois)

McGaan, Andrew R (Illinois)

Ntsebeza, Dumisa Buhle (Other)

Nwoye, Benjamin Obi (Illinois)

Obioha, Pius Akamdi (Louisiana)

Judge(s)

Norgle, Charles Ronald Sr. (Illinois)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Afran, Bruce I. (New Jersey)

Bledsoe, Gary Lynn (Texas)

Cantrell, Harry E. Jr. (Louisiana)

Geller, Morse (New York)

Jean-Baptiste, Lionel (Illinois)

McGaan, Andrew R (Illinois)

Ntsebeza, Dumisa Buhle (Other)

Nwoye, Benjamin Obi (Illinois)

Obioha, Pius Akamdi (Louisiana)

Ratliff, Barbara K (California)

Sammons, Diana E (New Jersey)

Thomas, Jomo Sanga (New York)

Wareham, Roger S (New York)

Williams, Bryan R (New York)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Barron, Michael C. (Louisiana)

Beisner, John (District of Columbia)

Brewer, John W (New York)

Burris, Roland (Illinois)

DiBianco, Gary (District of Columbia)

Eckstein, Maya Miriam (Virginia)

Emory, Frank E Jr (North Carolina)

Fagan, Edward D (New Jersey)

Fitzpatrick , Vincent R. Jr. (New York)

Fletcher, James A (Illinois)

Gardner, Thomas F (Illinois)

Hine, William J (New York)

Hubbard, Heidi K (District of Columbia)

Kennon, Lawrence E (Illinois)

Kroeger, David M. (Illinois)

McClard, Jack E (Virginia)

Morsch, James A (Illinois)

Niblock, John (District of Columbia)

Notzon, Robert Stephen (Texas)

Quinn, Pammela (District of Columbia)

Rohlfsen, Ryan James (Illinois)

Rudge, Andrew Wheeler (District of Columbia)

Sandler, Andrew L. (District of Columbia)

Schnabl, Marco E (New York)

Shin, Edward M (Illinois)

Shors, Matthew M (District of Columbia)

Smith, Douglas Geoffrey (Illinois)

Tchen, Christina M. (Illinois)

Torres, Debra (New York)

Turetsky, Ann Cara (New York)

Winders, Susan Lynn (Illinois)

Wright, Joseph M (Michigan)

Zdeb, Sara (District of Columbia)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

1:02-cv-07764

0:05-03266

0:07-03194

0:05-03305

[Docket]

In re: African Americans v. Brown & Williamson

April 7, 2011

April 7, 2011

Docket
58

1:02-cv-07764

0:02-cv-01862

0:02-cv-01864

0:02-cv-01863

0:02-cv-06961

0:02-cv-02084

0:02-cv-06180

0:03-cv-00036

0:02-cv-02712

01491

First Consolidated and Amended Complaint and Jury Demand

In Re: African American Descendants' Slave Litigation

June 17, 2003

June 17, 2003

Complaint
137

1:02-cv-07764

Opinion and Order

In re African-American Slave Descendants Litigation

304 F.Supp.2d 1027

Jan. 26, 2004

Jan. 26, 2004

Order/Opinion
157

1:02-cv-07764

0:02-cv-01862

0:02-cv-01864

0:02-cv-01863

0:02-cv-06961

0:02-cv-02084

0:02-cv-06180

0:03-cv-00036

0:02-cv-02712

01491

Second Consolidated and Amended Complaint and Jury Demand

In Re: African American Descendants' Slave Litigation

April 5, 2004

April 5, 2004

Complaint

Resources

Docket

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Illinois

Case Type(s):

Public Benefits/Government Services

Key Dates

Filing Date: Oct. 25, 2002

Closing Date: April 7, 2011

Case Ongoing: No reason to think so

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Formerly enslaved Africans and their descendants, formerly enslaved African-Americans and their decedents, and deceased formerly enslaved Africans and African-Americans.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Public Interest Lawyer: No

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

Aetna Inc. , Private Entity/Person

Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. , Private Entity/Person

Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. , Private Entity/Person

Canadian National Railroad Co. (Montreal), Private Entity/Person

FleetBoston Financial Corp. (Boston), Private Entity/Person

Lehman Brothers Inc. (New York), Private Entity/Person

Liggett Group, Inc. (Mebane), Private Entity/Person

Loews Corp. (New York ), Private Entity/Person

New York Life Insurance Corp. (New York ), Private Entity/Person

Norfolk Southern Railway Co. (Atlanta), Private Entity/Person

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (Winston-Salem), Private Entity/Person

The Society of Lloyd's, Private Entity/Person

Union Pacific Railway Co. (Omaha), Private Entity/Person

Westpoint Stevens, Private Entity/Person

Case Details

Causes of Action:

State law

Constitutional Clause(s):

Slavery/Involuntary servitude

Special Case Type(s):

Multi-District Litigation (MDL)

Availably Documents:

Trial Court Docket

Complaint (any)

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Defendant

Nature of Relief:

None

Source of Relief:

None

Issues

General:

Forced labor

Discrimination-basis:

Race discrimination

Race:

Black

Type of Facility:

Non-government for profit