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III. OVERVIEW OF THE PROCEEDINGS

A. Parties

1. Plaintiffs

Beginning in 2002, a number of lawsuits were filed by descendants of slaves seeking reparations from private corporations, which were alleged to have unjustly profited from the institution of slavery. On October 25, 2002, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation transferred these actions to this court for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407. See In re African–American Slave Descendants Litigation, No. 1491, 231 F.Supp.2d 1357 (Jud.Pan.Mult.Lit., Oct.25, 2002). This litigation presently consists of nine individual lawsuits, and these individual plaintiffs have filed a consolidated complaint. See Pls.' First Amended Consolidated Complaint.3

The plaintiffs in these cases include the following: Deadria Farmer–Paellmann,4 Mary Lacey Madison,5 Andre Carrington,6 Richard Barber, Sr.,7 Hannah Jane Hurdle–Toomey,8 Marcelle Besteda Porter,9 Julie Mae Wyatt–Kervin,10 Emma Marie Clark,11 Ina Bell Daniels Hurdle McGee,12 C. Doe,13 Antoinette Harrell Miller,14 as well as a group of seven anonymous plaintiffs.15 The named plaintiffs (hereinafter collectively referred to as “Plaintiffs”), on behalf of themselves and the classes they seek to represent,16 seek reparations on behalf of all “descendants of formerly enslaved Africans” and all living “formerly enslaved African–Americans.” See FACC ¶ 60. Specifically, Plaintiffs seek an accounting, constructive trust, restitution, disgorgement, compensatory and punitive damages arising out of the named defendants' alleged past and continued wrongful conduct relating to the institution of slavery.See id. ¶ 55.

2. Defendants

The named defendants (hereinafter collectively referred to as “Defendants”) are eighteen present-day companies whose predecessors are alleged to have been unjustly enriched through profits earned either directly or indirectly from the Trans–Atlantic Slave Trade and slavery between 1619 and 1865, as well as post-Emancipation slavery through the 1960s.

Defendants include the following companies: FleetBoston Financial Corporation, CSX Corporation, Aetna Inc., Brown Brothers Harriman, New York Life Insurance Company, Norfolk Southern Corporation, Lehman Brothers, Lloyd's of London, Union Pacific Railroad, JP Morgan Chase Manhattan Bank, Westpoint Stevens Inc., RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, Brown and Williamson, Liggett Group Inc., Loews Corporation, Canadian National Railway, Southern Mutual Insurance Company, and American International Group (“AIG”).17

Plaintiffs allege that FleetBoston, through its predecessor bank, made loans to slave traders and also collected custom duties and fees on ships engaged in the slave trade. See id. ¶¶ 125–27. Plaintiffs further allege that “FleetBoston engaged in a self-concealed business enterprise so that the plaintiff class and/or plaintiffs' ancestors would not be aware of the existence of this enterprise,” and, in more recent times, “made various misleading statements to the Press from March 2000 to February 2002, attempting to disassociate its predecessor company from its current company.” Id. ¶¶ 129–30.

Plaintiffs allege that CSX “is a successor-in-interest to numerous predecessor railroad lines that were constructed or run, at least in part, by slave labor.” Id. ¶ 131. Plaintiffs further allege that “CSX engaged in a self-concealed business enterprise as the plaintiff class and/or plaintiff ancestors would not be aware of the existence of this enterprise,” and, in more recent times, “withheld information or made a misleading statement to the Press regarding their participation in and profiting from slavery.” Id. ¶¶ 132–33.

Plaintiffs allege that “Aetna's predecessors in interest, actually insured slave owners against the loss of their human chattel ... [and] therefore unjustly profited from the institution of slavery.” Id. ¶ 134. Plaintiffs further allege that “Aetna engaged in a self-concealed business enterprise as the plaintiff class and/or plaintiff ancestors would not be aware of the existence of this enterprise,” and, in more recent times, “withheld information or made a misleading statement regarding their participation in and profiting from slavery.” Id. ¶¶ 135–36.

Plaintiffs allege that Brown Brothers Harriman is the successor corporation to Brown Brothers & Co., which “loaned millions directly to planters, merchants and cotton brokers throughout the South, ... [and] records also reveal that Brown Brothers loaned to plantation owners who told the firm that they needed the cash to buy slaves.” Id. ¶ 137. Plaintiffs also allege that “Louisiana court records dating back to the 1840's ... reveal the firm's ownership of at least two cotton plantations totaling 4,614 acres and the plantations' 346 slaves.” Id. ¶ 138. Plaintiffs further allege that “Brown Brothers Harriman engaged in a self-concealed business enterprise as the plaintiff class and/or plaintiff ancestors would not be aware of the existence of this enterprise,” and, in more recent times, “withheld information or made a misleading statement based on press reports after the filing, trying to disassociate ... from its predecessor's business.”Id. ¶¶ 140–41.

Plaintiffs allege that “New York Life's predecessor-in-interest, Nautilus Insurance, earned premiums from its sale of life insurance to slave owners.” Id. ¶ 142. Plaintiffs further allege that “New York Life engaged in a self-concealed business enterprise as the plaintiff class and/or plaintiff ancestors would not be aware of the existence of this enterprise,” and, in more recent times, “withheld information or made misleading statements regarding their participation in and profiting from slavery.” Id. ¶¶ 143, 145.

Plaintiffs allege that Norfolk Southern “is a successor-in-interest to numerous railroad lines that were constructed or run, in part, by slave labor.” Id. ¶ 147.

Plaintiffs allege that the founder of Lehman Brothers, Henry Lehman, and his brothers “grew rich as middlemen in the slave-grown cotton trade.” Id. ¶ 148.

Plaintiffs allege that Lloyd's of London “was involved in the insuring of ships utilized for the Trans–Atlantic slave trade.” Id. ¶ 149. Plaintiffs further allege that “Lloyd's engaged in a self-concealed business enterprise as the plaintiff class and/or plaintiff ancestors would not be aware of the existence of this enterprise.” Id. ¶ 150.

Plaintiffs allege that Union Pacific “is a successor-in-interest to numerous predecessor railroad lines that were constructed or run in part by slave labor.” Id. ¶ 152. Plaintiffs further allege that “Union Pacific engaged in a self-concealed business enterprise as the plaintiff class and/or plaintiff ancestors would not be aware of the existence of this enterprise,” and, in more recent times, “withheld information or made a misleading statement regarding their participation in profiting from slavery.” Id. ¶¶ 153–54.

Plaintiffs allege that two of the predecessor banks that merged to create J.P. Morgan Chase “were behind a consortium to raise money to insure slavery.” Id. ¶ 155. Plaintiffs further allege that “J.P. Morgan Chase engaged in a self-concealed business enterprise as the plaintiff class and/or plaintiff ancestors would not be aware of the existence of this enterprise,” and, in more recent times, “withheld information or made a misleading statement regarding their participation in and profiting from slavery.” Id. ¶¶ 156–57.

Plaintiffs allege that Westpoint Stevens “is a successor-in-interest to Pepperell Manufacturing which utilized cotton from Southern planters farmed by enslaved Africans.” Id. ¶ 160.

Plaintiffs allege that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Brown & Williamson, Liggett Group and Lowes Corporation (parent company of Lorillard Tobacco Company), which were all once part of the American Tobacco Company, are the “beneficiar[ies] of assets acquired through the forced uncompensated labors of enslaved African–Americans.” Id. ¶¶ 161, 165, 166, and 168.

Plaintiffs allege that Canadian National Railway “is the successor-in-interest to seven predecessor railroad lines that were constructed or run in part by slave labor.” Id. ¶ 169. Plaintiffs further allege that “Canadian National engaged in a self-concealed business enterprise as the plaintiff class and/or plaintiff ancestors would not be aware of the existence of this enterprise.” Id. ¶ 171.

Plaintiffs allege that Southern Mutual Insurance “issued policies on the lives of slaves in Louisiana.” Id. ¶ 172.

Plaintiffs allege that “AIG is successor-in-interest to the United States Life Insurance Company ..., which earned premiums from its sale of life insurance on the lives of enslaved Africans with slave owners as the beneficiaries.”Id. ¶ 173.

As evidenced by Plaintiffs' allegations, and as the court shall further discuss, their Complaint is devoid of any allegations that connect the specifically named Defendants or their predecessors and any of the Plaintiffs or their ancestors.

B. Pleadings

1. Factual Allegations of Plaintiffs' First Amended and Consolidated Complaint

Plaintiffs' Complaint begins with a narration of the historical background of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in America. The Complaint proceeds to describe the Slave Codes, which various States enacted in order to perpetuate the institution of slavery. The Complaint also chronicles how the forced labor of enslaved Africans helped to build our Nation and enrich early American industry, while simultaneously dismantling a culture and impoverishing a race of fellow men and women.

The Complaint then outlines the beginnings of laws that outlawed the trafficking and trade of slaves, which progressed into a body of law that found the institution of slavery to be contrary to the Natural Law of Man. The Complaint proceeds to show that despite this body of law that found the institution of slavery to be contrary to the Natural Law of Man, the vestiges of slavery, in the form of racism, have resulted in modern-day disparities between descendants of slaves and the remainder of our society.

Ultimately, the Complaint alleges that “Defendants, through their predecessors in interest, conspired and/or aided and abetted with slave traders, with each other and other entities and institutions ... and other unnamed entities and/or financial institutions to commit and/or knowingly facilitate crimes against humanity, and to further illicitly profit from slave labor.” See id. ¶ 53.

2. Counts of Plaintiffs' First Amended and Consolidated Complaint

Count I of Plaintiffs' First Amended and Consolidated Complaint is styled: “Conspiracy.” Plaintiffs allege that “[e]ach of the defendants acted individually and in concert with their industry group and with each other, either expressly or tacitly, to participate in a plan that was designed in part to commit the tortious acts referred to herein.” Id. ¶ 216.

Count II is styled: “Demand for an Accounting.” Plaintiffs allege that “Defendants knew or should have known of the existence of corporate records that indicate their profiting from slave labor[, and] Plaintiffs and the public have demanded that the defendants reveal their complete corporate records regarding same and that a just and fair accounting be made for profits derived from the slave trade.” Id. ¶ 219. Plaintiffs further allege that “[t]here is a fiduciary relationship that arose between the litigant classes and defendants by virtue of defendants' superior position, maintenance of those positions and, their holding in constructive trust, the proceeds of the unpaid labor of the plaintiffs and / or their ancestors.” Id. ¶ 222. Plaintiffs argue that the production of such corporate records is essential in order to help Plaintiffs to: “heal the continuing psychic harm associated with slavery, trace ancestral records, provide a public and historical record of the violent force necessary to maintain a hierarchy to support slavery, provide evidence of past and subsequently established discrimination, provide a historical record of the economic benefits that accrued to the defendant private institutions as a result of slavery to more fully describe and document the connection between the institution of slavery and racist/discriminatory policies that still exist today, and assist in stemming racial discrimination through the knowledge of the role slavery played in its root causes.”Id. ¶ 221(a-f). Plaintiffs' prayer for relief under Count II seeks, among other things, “the appointment of an independent historic commission to serve as a depository for corporate records related to slavery.” Id. ¶ 223.

Count III is styled: “Crime Against Humanity.” Plaintiffs allege that “[s]lavery is and has always been a crime against humanity.” Id. ¶ 224.

Count IV is styled: “Piracy.” Plaintiffs allege that “Defendants, upon information and belief[,] committed the crime against humanity by their actions either directly or indirectly in support for the continuation of the smuggling of Africans.” Id. ¶ 230. Plaintiffs' prayer for relief under Count IV seeks an accounting of profits earned from slave labor, a constructive trust imposed on such profits, restitution, equitable disgorgement, and punitive damages. See id. ¶ 231.

Count V is styled: “Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress: Rape, Breeding, Torture, Abuse and the Spread of Racist Beliefs.” Plaintiffs allege that “Defendants' predecessor companies aided or abetted, or under other theories of third party liability ..., participated in, allowed, or implicitly or recklessly, sanctioned, and/or benefitted from an institution that relied in [sic.] the sexual exploitation, violent abuse and rape to achieve its goals of a malleable and unpaid work force.” Id. ¶ 233. Plaintiffs further allege that “Defendants' predecessor companies aided or abetted, or under other theories of third party liability ..., participated in, allowed implicitly or recklessly and / or unjustly benefitted from” the spread of racist ideology concerning the inferiority of the African race. Id. ¶ 236. Plaintiffs' prayer for relief under Count V seeks an accounting of profits earned from slave labor, a constructive trust imposed on such profits, restitution, equitable disgorgement, and punitive damages. Id. ¶ 238.

Count VI is styled: “Conversion.” Plaintiffs allege that “[a]s a result of defendants' failure and refusal to account for, acknowledge and return to plaintiffs and the plaintiff class, the value of their ancestors' slave labor, defendants have wilfully and wrongfully misappropriated and converted the value of that labor and its derivative profits into defendant's own property.” Id. ¶ 240. Plaintiffs' prayer for relief under Count VI seeks an accounting of profits earned from slave labor, a constructive trust imposed on such profits, restitution, equitable disgorgement, and punitive damages. See id. ¶ 242.

Count VII is styled: “Unjust Enrichment.” Plaintiffs allege that “Defendants' failure to pay for the labor provided by the slaves without receiving any compensation, has allowed defendants to retain a benefit at the expense of the plaintiffs' and their ancestors.” Id. ¶ 247. Plaintiffs' prayer for relief under Count VII seeks an accounting of profits earned from slave labor, a constructive trust imposed on such profits, restitution, equitable disgorgement, and punitive damages. See id. ¶ 253.

Count VIII is styled: “42 U.S.C. § 1982.” Plaintiffs allege that as a result of the Defendants' conduct that denied slaves of the value of their labor, and the Defendants' conduct in restricting access to corporate records regarding participation in slavery, the Plaintiffs' ancestors', and their descendants', rights to inherit and convey property have been violated in contravention of 42 U.S.C. § 1982. See id. ¶¶ 255–56.

Count IX, which is pled in the alternative, is styled: “Alien Torts Claims Act.” Plaintiffs posit that, as “[m]any of the torts set out in the instant complaint occurred prior to the formal end of chattel slavery in the United States of America,” id. ¶ 237, Plaintiffs' ancestors were not citizens of the United States at such a time. See id. ¶ 238.18 Plaintiffs further allege that slavery and international slave trafficking violated international law, and that since their ancestors were non-citizens, the Alien Torts Claims Act provides a source to relief for those violations of international law. See id. ¶¶ 237–43.

Lastly, Counts X through XIV of the Plaintiffs' Complaint allege that the factual allegations constitute violations of various state consumer protection laws. Specifically, Count X alleges a violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, 815 Ill. Comp. Stat. 505/1 et seq. (2003); Count XI alleges a violation of the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, La.Rev.Stat. Ann. § 51:1401 et seq. (2003); Count XII alleges a violation of the New Jersey Unfair Trade Practice Law, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 56:8–1 (2003); Count XIII alleges a violation of the New York Consumer Protection From Deceptive Acts and Practices Law, N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law §§ 349–350 (2003); and Count XIV alleges a violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act, Tex. Bus. and Com.Code Ann. § 17.41 (2002). See FACC ¶¶ 244–253.

In essence, the Plaintiffs seek reparations from Defendants for their alleged roles in the institution of human chattel slavery as it existed in the United States from 1619 through 1865, to date.

3. Defendants' Joint Motion to Dismiss

Defendants have responded to Plaintiffs' Complaint with the present Motion to Dismiss, brought pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6).19 See Defs.' Joint Mot. to Dismiss, at 1. Defendants allege four separate grounds which warrant dismissal: (1) Plaintiffs' claims fall short of both constitutional and prudential standing requirements; (2) Plaintiffs' claims present a non-justiciable political question; (3) Plaintiffs' claims fail to state any cognizable claim; and (4) all of Plaintiffs' claims are time-barred. See id., at 4–5. Defendants' motion is fully briefed and now before the court.

 

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