It is beyond debate that slavery has caused tremendous suffering and ineliminable scars throughout our Nation's history. However, Plaintiffs' claims, as alleged in their Complaint, fail based on numerous well-settled legal principles. First, Plaintiffs' claims are beyond the constitutional authority of this court. Without alleging any specific connection between themselves and the named Defendants, Plaintiffs lack essential constitutional standing requirements to bring their claims. Second, prudential limitations prohibit the court from deciding such broad questions of social importance when such claims are brought on behalf of absent third parties, as Plaintiffs attempt here. Third, the long-standing and well-reasoned political question doctrine bars the court from deciding the issue of slavery reparations, an issue that has been historically and constitutionally committed to the Legislative and Executive branches of our government. Fourth, Plaintiffs' claims are untimely. Conceding that many of the torts alleged in the Complaint occurred prior to the formal end of slavery, Plaintiffs fail to show how any of these claims fall within the applicable statutes of limitation. Finally, under the rules of procedure which guide the federal judicial system, Plaintiffs' Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, a serious defect the court cannot overlook regardless how egregious the circumstances giving rise to the claims.
In summary, Plaintiffs' attempt to bring these claims more than a century after the end of the Civil War and the formal abolition of slavery fails; this determination is consistent with the position taken by numerous courts which have considered the issue over the last century. Ultimately, the legal obstacles prohibiting judicial resolution of such claims cannot be circumvented by the courts. Moreover, from the onset of the Civil War until present, the historical record clearly shows that the President and Congress have the constitutional authority to determine the nature and scope of the relief sought in this case, not the courts. This is manifested in the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation; the enactment of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution; and the promulgation of over a century of civil rights legislation.
Some may view this ruling as a condonation of ancient wrongs. That view is wrong. To suggest that the lions have won again and that the court is impervious to the human suffering at the core of this case would be absurd. The reasonable prudent person will read this opinion with care. We strive, case by case, within an imperfect system of law, through human endeavors, towards the unattainable perfect justice we seek.
For the foregoing reasons, Defendants' Joint Motion to Dismiss brought pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6) is granted without prejudice.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Some Northern state statutes, however, stood firmly in opposition to slavery. See infra Part II.E (discussing the Personal Liberty Laws enacted in Northern States).
“The migration or Importation of Such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.” U.S. Const. art I, § 9, cl. 1.
The citations in this opinion are to the paragraphs as styled in Plaintiffs' Complaint; however, in certain instances the numbering of paragraphs does not proceed in chronological order.
Farmer–Paellmann alleges that she is the “great-great-granddaughter of Clara and Abel Hinds, Africans who were enslaved on a South Carolina sea island rice plantation.” See FACC ¶ 63.
Madison alleges that her “ancestors were slaves in the agricultural industry in Virginia and North Carolina.” See FACC ¶ 64.
Carrington alleges that his maternal and paternal ancestors “were slaves in North Carolina .... were involved in the cotton and tobacco industries.” See FACC ¶ 66.
Barber alleges that his ancestors were enslaved in the agricultural industry and other industries. See FACC ¶ 67.
Hurdle–Toomey alleges that her father, Andrew Jackson Hurdle, was a slave who was sold to a Texas family when he was ten years old. See FACC ¶ 69. The Texas family is not an identified defendant.
Porter alleges that her ancestors were slaves. See FACC ¶ 73.
Wyatt–Kervin alleges that she is the daughter of former slaves, Jake and Louise Wyatt. See FACC ¶ 74. Bill Gene McGee alleges that he is the guardian ad litem of Wyatt–Kervin, and brings this case as her representative.See id. ¶ 76.
Clark alleges that “she was enslaved in the agricultural industry in Louisiana from about 1927 through 1934,” and further alleges that “a couple that operated a dairy farm ... told her that they bought her and she was their slave.” See FACC ¶ 75. The couple is not an identified defendant.
McGee alleges that she is the “great grand-daughter of Andrew Jackson Hurdle, an enslaved African.” See FACC ¶ 77.
C. Doe alleges that he was a slave through the 1960s, and “he and his family were forced to live on the slave quarters of a plantation that grew numerous agriculatural crops such as cotton and rice.” See FACC ¶ 89. C. Doe further alleges that “[u]pon information and belief, ... some or all of Defendants corporate entities doing business in Mississippi or Louisiana had reason to know of the construction of forms of slavery yet failed to take steps to eliminate same, while they continue to inure benefits form [sic.] the illegal, but sanctioned system of servitude Post–Emancipation.” See id. ¶ 90.
Miller alleges that she is a descendant of a former slave, Carrie Richardson. See FACC ¶ 92.
The group of seven unnamed plaintiffs include: C. Doe, Jr., M.L. Doe, E.H. Doe, A.L. Doe, A. Doe I. Doe and C.W. Doe, who are all alleged to have been enslaved “for the benefit of the cotton industry, sugar industry and rice industry to name of [sic.] few.” See FACC ¶ 91.
Plaintiffs refer to numerous classes of plaintiffs, but have not filed any motion for class certification pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 23.
In addition to joining in the present motion to dismiss, both Defendants Loews Corporation and Canadian National Railway have filed separate motions to dismiss, based on grounds unique to them, pending with the court.
See supra footnote 3 (indicating that citations in this opinion are to the paragraphs as styled in Plaintiffs' Complaint, and in certain instances, do not proceed chronologically).
All named Defendants have joined in the present motion to dismiss. Certain individual defendants have filed separate motions to dismiss on grounds unique to them.
Nine of the named Plaintiffs allege to have been slaves during the twentieth century, but also fail to establish standing to sue Defendants for their alleged injuries. See discussion infra at 1048.
In fact, courts give special treatment to pro se litigation. See, e.g., Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972) (holding that allegations of pro se complaints are held to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers”); see also Castro v. United States, 540 U.S. 375, 124 S.Ct. 786, 791–92, 157 L.Ed.2d 778 (2003) (indicating that while holding pro se complaints to less stringent standards, courts may recharacterize such motions in order to avoid unnecessary dismissal or inappropriately stringent application of formal labeling requirements).
In support is their position, Plaintiffs rely on Kadic v. Karadzic, 70 F.3d 232 (2nd Cir.1995), a case which is clearly distinguishable from the present case. In Kadic, the Second Circuit declined to dismiss the plaintiffs' claims under the Alien Tort Claims Act alleging gross human rights abuses against a Bosnian Serb leader on the basis of the political question doctrine. 70 F.3d at 250. The Kadic court cautioned that “judges should not reflexively invoke these doctrines to avoid difficult and somewhat sensitive decisions ...” and added that “[a]lthough these cases present issues that arise in a politically charged context, that does not transform them into cases involving non-justiciable political questions.”Id. at 249. However, in reaching its decision, the Kadic court stated that it did not have to decide the issue of whether judicial involvement would interfere with actions of other branches of the federal government because the court obtained a “ ‘Statement of Interest’ ” signed by both the Solicitor General and the State Department's Legal Advisor expressly disclaiming any concern that the political question doctrine should be invoked. Id. at 250. No such “Statement of Interest” has been or could be sought in the present case.
Because there were questions as to whether the Thirteenth Amendment authorized the Civil Rights Act of 1866, Congress ratified the Fourteenth Amendment on July 9, 1868, rendering the issue moot. See U.S. Const. amend XIV.
In Dred Scott v. Sanford, the Supreme Court declared the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional and broadly held that slaves were property, not citizens. 60 U.S. 393, 19 How. 393 (1865). The Court's ruling established that slaves were not entitled to all of the rights, privileges and immunities guaranteed to all citizens under the Constitution. Id. at 404–405, 19 How. 393.
The court notes that although Congress intended to give African–Americans the right to vote by ratifying the Fifteenth Amendment, the Amendment itself did not guarantee such a result. State and local laws requiring poll taxes, literary tests, residence and registration requirements, and “grandfather clauses” acted as impediments to this right. See Blaustein and Zangrando, supra at 245–46. Many of these issues were not resolved until decades later when the United States Supreme Court became involved in the issue and Congress passed the Voting Acts Rights Act of 1965. Id. However, to help illustrate the seriousness of Congress' efforts to assimilate the newly freed slaves into society, the court notes that the African–American male was given the right to vote fifty years prior to Congress' ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. See U.S. Const. amend. XIX.
In fact the Representative Branches continue to consider the issue of reparations to descendants of slaves. In 1989, and in each successive year, Congressman John Conyers has introduced a Reparations Study Bill, commonly referred to as H.R. 40. See, e.g., Commission to Study Reparations Proposals for African Americans Act, H.R. 3745, 101st Cong. (1989); Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African–Americans Act, H.R. 40, 108th Cong. (2003). This Reparations Study Bill provides, inter alia, for the formation of a commission to study human chattel slavery and its continuing impact on African descendants in the United States today. See, e.g., H.R. 3745, § 2(b)(1)-(3), 101st Cong. (1989). The bill also calls for the commission to recommend the form that reparations should take if it indeed finds there to be continuing injuries to African descendants. See id. at § 2(b)(5).
In Greek mythology, Cassandra was a figure endowed with the gift of prophecy but fated never to be believed.
Plaintiffs argue that President Bush recently gave “implicit support” for their claims in a major policy speech given on Goree Island in Senegal on July 8, 2003, where he declared slavery as “one of the greatest crimes in history.” See Pls.' Resp. to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, at 31. Plaintiffs fail to develop this argument or support it in any way. See United States v. Jones, 224 F.3d 621, 626 (7th Cir.2000) (stating that courts should not consider undeveloped or unsupported arguments). In any event, Plaintiffs' use of the President's speech is not persuasive because such statements may support the proposition that the Representative branches of our government should continue their historical efforts to advance civil rights for all citizens.
Also reflecting on the purposes served by statutes of limitation, the Supreme Court once stated: “Statutes of limitations always have vexed the philosophical mind for it is difficult to fit them into a completely logical and symmetrical system of law.” Donaldson, 325 U.S. at 313, 65 S.Ct. 1137.
The court notes that neither Plaintiffs nor Defendants engage in a choice of law analysis. As to Plaintiffs' state law claims, the court normally would apply the choice of law principles of the state in which each transferor court sits. See Ferens v. John Deere Co., 494 U.S. 516, 518–19, 110 S.Ct. 1274, 108 L.Ed.2d 443 (1990) (indicating that in actions transferred pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407(a), the transferee court applies the choice of law principles of the state where the transferor court sits for an analysis of state law claims). The court notes that the vagueness of Plaintiffs' Complaint prevents a thorough choice of law analysis.
Although Plaintiffs attempt to assert a claim for piracy, there is no private right of action for this claim, only criminal. See 18 U.S.C. § 1585; see also Karahalios v. National Federation of Federal Employees, Local 1263, 489 U.S. 527, 532–33, 109 S.Ct. 1282, 103 L.Ed.2d 539 (1989) (citing Transamerica Mort. Advisors, Inc. v. Lewis, 444 U.S. 11, 19, 100 S.Ct. 242, 62 L.Ed.2d 146 (1979)) (indicating that where a statute expressly provides a remedy, courts must be especially reluctant to provide additional remedies).
Plaintiffs attempt to assert a private right of action against Defendants for slavery, as a crime against humanity, based on the doctrine of jus cogens. Plaintiffs contend that since slavery has been deemed a crime against humanity according to international law, the doctrine of jus cogens applies, making this claim enforceable against parties in the United States. There are only two bases for establishing a private right of action based on international law: (1) self-executing treaties and (2) express statutory grants. See, e.g., Dreyfus v. Von Finck, 534 F.2d 24, 29–31 (2d Cir.1976). First, the United States is not a signatory to any international treaty declaring slavery a crime against humanity. Second, there is no United States statute establishing a private right of action for claims based upon slavery as a crime against humanity. Therefore, Plaintiffs cannot a assert a private claim for crimes against humanity.
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