This action is the latest in a long line of cases that have sought reparations for slavery. Like all of those earlier cases, this action fails on multiple legal grounds. Defendants Aetna Inc., Brown Brothers Harriman & Company, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation, Canadian National Railway Company, CSX Corporation, FleetBoston Financial Corporation, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Lehman Brothers Inc., Liggett Group, Inc., New York Life Insurance Company, Norfolk Southern Railway Company, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, The Society of Lloyd's, Union Pacific Railroad Company, and Union Pacific Corporation (collectively, “defendants”) respectfully submit this memorandum in support of their joint motion to dismiss, with prejudice, the claims asserted in plaintiffs' Amended Complaint, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6).
The named plaintiffs seek reparations on behalf of a class consisting of all “descendants of formerly enslaved Africans” and a recently added sub-class of all living “formerly enslaved African-Americans.” Am. Compl. „ 60. Defendants are 18 present-day companies whose predecessors are alleged to have “illicitly profit[ed] from slave labor” between 1619 and 1865 and post-emancipation slavery through the 1930's. Id. „„ 53, 54. Plaintiffs seek to hold defendants responsible for the entire sweep of slavery and its consequences. Without alleging any connection between themselves or their ancestors and these defendants, they seek to hold defendants jointly and severally liable for “the appointment of an independent historic commission,” “an accounting,” “the imposition of a constructive trust,” restitution of the value of the slave labor performed by the ancestors of the putative class, disgorgement of profits, compensatory and punitive damages, and other forms of equitable and injunctive relief. Id. „„ 55, Prayer. It is beyond debate that the practice of slavery marked a deplorable period in our nation's history, but it is also beyond debate that grievances arising from that period cannot be heard in 2003 in a court of law.
For the past century, descendants of slaves have repeatedly attempted to obtain reparations from the United States government through litigation. Courts have consistently dismissed these lawsuits because of insurmountable problems including lack of standing, untimeliness, nonjusticiability, sovereign immunity, and/or failure to state a claim. See, e.g., Cato v. United States, 70 F.3d 1103 (9th Cir. 1995) (dismissing slavery reparations claims based on plaintiffs' lack of standing, the political question doctrine, and sovereign immunity); Johnson v. McAdoo, 45 App. D.C. 440, 441 (1916) (affirming on sovereign immunity grounds dismissal of claims by three former slaves, on behalf of themselves and their ancestors, seeking $68 million from the federal government for uncompensated work associated with cotton production between 1859 and 1868), aff'd mem.,244 U.S. 643 (1917).
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consistently dismissed them on standing, justiciability, and/or untimeliness grounds. See, e.g., Iwanowa v. Ford Motor Co., 67 F. Supp. 2d 424 (D.N.J. 1999) (dismissing forced labor reparations claims against private company on grounds of political question, comity and statute of limitations); Burger-Fischer v. Degussa AG, 65 F. Supp. 2d 248 (D.N.J. 1999) (dismissing slave labor claims against private defendant on political question grounds).
Consistent with this long line of precedent, plaintiffs' claims against defendants must be dismissed on at least four independent grounds. The recent addition of nine new plaintiffs who contend, without alleging any connection to any defendant, that they were forced by unnamed persons to work without pay during the early decades of the last century, does nothing to save plaintiffs' claims from dismissal on grounds that include:
First, plaintiffs' claims fall far short of both constitutional and prudential standing requirements. Without alleging any connection between these plaintiffs and these defendants, plaintiffs seek reparations for events between 1619 and 1865 involving not plaintiffs but their ancestors, and for post-emancipation slavery through the 1930's. Plaintiffs do not allege that they personally have suffered any constitutionally cognizable injury that is fairly traceable to defendants. Rather, they seek - in direct contravention of the law of standing - to assert a generalized, class-based grievance. See infra § I.
Second, each of plaintiffs' causes of action is time-barred, and has been for many decades or even centuries. Plaintiffs' cursory tolling allegations do not revive their claims. See infra § II.
Third, plaintiffs' claims are nonjusticiable. Courts have declined to address the issue of reparations for former slaves through private litigation. Rather, during and immediately after the Civil War, and up to the present, the subject has been handled exclusively by Congress and the President. Given this history, there is no question that the issue of reparations for slavery is constitutionally committed to the political branches of the federal government. Moreover, because the Amended Complaint's allegations are so sweeping, the connections between the parties so tenuous, and the events in question so remote, there are no judicially discoverable and manageable standards for the Court to apply in addressing these claims. See infra § III.
Fourth, plaintiffs' Amended Complaint fails to state any cognizable claim. Plaintiffs attempt to convert an historical wrong into a present-day dispute through the use of inapplicable legal labels like “unfair competition.” That attempt is unavailing. Plaintiffs cannot state a claim under present-day legal doctrines, let alone under the law in effect at the time of the alleged conduct. See infra § IV.
The infirmities in plaintiffs' Amended Complaint cannot be remedied by amendment. Accordingly, as set forth below, the Court should dismiss plaintiffs' claims with prejudice.