Sunday, June 24, 2018

B. Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can be Granted

[19] As discussed supra, one of the fundamental defects of Plaintiffs' Complaint is lack of standing, as the Complaint fails to allege any constitutionally cognizable injury that is fairly traceable to Defendants. As an additional argument in support of dismissal, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Although the court has dispositively determined that Plaintiffs lack standing to bring the claims raised in their Complaint, and that these claims present a non-justiciable political question, with an abundance of caution, the court will next determine whether the Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted as an independent basis for dismissal.

The sufficiency of a complaint may be tested in a number of ways pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12: a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6); a motion for more definite statements of a vague or ambiguous complaint pursuant to Rule 12(e); or a motion to strike redundant, immaterial, impertinent or scandalous matter in a complaint pursuant to Rule 12(f). In this matter, Defendants have elected to proceed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), challenging whether Plaintiffs' Complaint states a claim upon which relief can be granted.

[20] Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 8(a)(2); see also Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence and Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 168, 113 S.Ct. 1160, 122 L.Ed.2d 517 (1993) (discussing “notice pleading” standards under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure). Under this liberal notice pleading standard, “ ‘[a] court may dismiss a complaint’ only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations.” Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514, 122 S.Ct. 992, 152 L.Ed.2d 1 (2002) (quoting Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73, 104 S.Ct. 2229, 81 L.Ed.2d 59 (1984)).

[21] [22] [23] [24] The main function to be performed by the complaint is to “give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957). “While federal notice-pleading allows for a generous reading of a complaint, in order to resist a motion to dismiss, the complaint must at least set out facts sufficient to ‘outline or adumbrate’ the basis of the claim.” Panaras v. Liquid Carbonic Industries Corp., 74 F.3d 786, 792 (7th Cir.1996). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require the plaintiff to disclose adequate information regarding the basis of the claim for relief as distinguished from a bare averment that the plaintiff wants relief and is simply entitled to it. See 5 Charles Allen Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil 2d § 1202 (2d ed.1990). A complaint contains adequate information regarding the basis of the claim for relief if it contains even “the bare minimum facts necessary to put the defendant on notice of the claim so that he can file an answer.” Higgs v. Carver, 286 F.3d 437, 439 (7th Cir.2002). To provide a defendant with fair notice, “a complaint must allege facts bearing on all material elements necessary to sustain a recovery under some viable legal theory.” Looper Maintenance Service, Inc. v. City of Indianapolis, 197 F.3d 908, 911 (7th Cir.1999) (citation omitted).

Plaintiffs claim that Defendants illegally profited from slavery without identifying the act or acts claimed to support this broad charge. This is insufficient to state a claim even under liberal notice-pleading standards. See Higgs, 286 F.3d at 439. As already indicated, Plaintiffs' Complaint fails to connect any alleged injury of any one of the Plaintiffs or their ancestors to alleged conduct by any one of the Defendants or their predecessors. Rather, Plaintiffs seek to hold Defendants liable for an entire era of history simply because their alleged predecessors were purportedly doing business in nineteenth century America. Plaintiffs' Complaint can be reduced to the following syllogism: Defendants or their predecessors allegedly profited from the unpaid labor of former slaves, and Plaintiffs are descendants of former slaves, therefore, Plaintiffs are entitled to some of Defendants' profits. However, the allegations in a complaint must be those relating to the plaintiff, not those of someone else. See Kyle v. Morton High School, 144 F.3d 448, 455 (7th Cir.1998). The broad allegations of Plaintiffs' Complaint fail to give Defendants fair notice of what conduct is alleged to have injured which persons, in what manner, and when over the past four centuries covered in the Complaint.

In light of this omission failing to link any alleged conduct of Defendants or their alleged predecessors to Plaintiffs or their ancestors, Plaintiffs' Complaint relies on a conspiracy theory. Plaintiffs' Complaint alleges that Defendants or their alleged predecessors conspired with certain unnamed malefactors to violate the legal rights of certain unnamed victims—presumably all persons held in slavery—and thus are somehow liable based on a theory of third-party liability. However, Plaintiffs' Complaint fails to allege even the faintest outline of this conspiracy, let alone its members and Defendants', or their predecessors', alleged roles in that conspiracy. Even under liberal notice pleading standards, the pleading of a conspiracy requires a plaintiff to “indicate the parties, general purposes, and approximate date, so that the defendant has notice of what he is charged with.” Walker v. Thompson, 288 F.3d 1005, 1007 (7th Cir.2002). Plaintiffs' conspiracy theory is similar to that in Albiero v. City of Kankakee, 122 F.3d 417, 420–21 (7th Cir.1997), where the plaintiffs alleged a conspiracy, but did not elaborate or provide any other allegations to support the conspiracy.

Plaintiffs' Complaint fails to meet the notice pleading requirements set forth in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. “This is not a case where the plaintiff has been tripped up by ‘mere technicalities,’ but rather, the plaintiff has omitted the gravamen of his complaint.” Kyle, 144 F.3d at 457. Plaintiffs' Complaint is a pastiche of the generally acknowledged horrors of slavery, totally devoid of allegations of injury to the Plaintiffs or corresponding conduct committed by Defendants. “This glaring gap in the complaint leaves total speculation as the only alternative for the court to come up with any set of facts justifying relief.” Id. at 454. Defendants cannot be deemed to have fair notice of Plaintiffs' claims when they are based solely on speculation. Further, the court cannot indulge this speculation and attempt to determine whether Plaintiffs' Complaint could set forth any set of facts justifying relief, as “[t]hat is not the court's job.” Id. In short, Plaintiffs fail to present a well-pleaded complaint that can withstand scrutiny under Rule 12(b)(6), even under liberal notice pleading standards.

 

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