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24 Mar 2002

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Slavery reparations lawsuit (re USA)

Status: CLOSED

Date lawsuit was filed
24 Mar 2002
Location of Filing: United States of America
Location of Incident: United States of America
Type of Litigation: Domestic



Snapshot: In 2002, descendants of 19th century African-American slaves filed nine lawsuits seeking reparations from corporations. Plaintiffs allege the corporations have ties to the trans-Atlantic slave trade and were unjustly enriched from the labour of African-American slaves. The court held that these claims raised political questions and were therefore beyond the scope of the federal judiciary. 

Descendants of 19th-century African-American slaves filed nine lawsuits seeking reparations from corporations in various US federal courts during 2002.  The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant corporations (financial, railroad, tobacco, insurance, and textile companies), or their predecessors, had ties to the trans-Atlantic slave trade and were unjustly enriched from the labour of African-American slaves.  In October 2002, these lawsuits were consolidated into one class-action lawsuit.  In 2004, the court dismissed the claim but allowed the plaintiffs to amend their complaint.  The plaintiffs submitted an amended complaint making claims of intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, civil rights violations due to the denial of property rights and consumer fraud.  In July 2005, the court again dismissed these claims.  The opinion noted that these claims raised a “political question”, and therefore were beyond the scope of the federal judiciary.  In addition, the court found that the plaintiffs did not have proper standing to bring the lawsuit against the named defendants and that the plaintiffs’ claims were precluded by the statute of limitations.  In December 2006, the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit reversed the dismissal of the plaintiffs’ consumer fraud claims, while upholding the dismissal of the balance of the plaintiffs’ claims.  The court of appeals found that questions remained as to whether consumers were defrauded by the failure of the defendant companies to reveal their alleged collaboration with slavery.  In May 2007, the plaintiffs petitioned the US Supreme Court to hear their appeal of the 2006 court of appeals decision.  The Supreme Court denied the plaintiffs’ petition in October 2007, declining to hear the case.

- “A Federal Court of Appeals Revives a Class Action Seeking Compensation for Slavery in America”, Anthony Sebok, Findlaw’s Writ, 19 Dec 2006
- “Most of slavery reparations suit thrown out”, Mike Robinson, Associated Press, 14 Dec 2006
- “Slave descendants attempt to revive reparations lawsuit against 17 insurers and banks”, Associated Press, 27 Sep 2006
- “The Lawsuit Brought by African-Americans Seeking Compensation from Corporations for The Wrongs of Slavery: Why the Opinion Dismissing the Suit Is Unpersuasive”, Anthony Sebok, Findlaw’s Writ, 8 Aug 2005
- “Slave reparations case dismissed”, Associated Press, 26 Jan 2004
- “Federal Lawsuit Seeks Slave Reparations from Three Companies”, William Baue, Social Funds, 18 Apr 2002

- National Legal and Policy Center: [PDF] The Case Against Slave Reparations, Peter Flaherty & John Carlisle, 25 Oct 2004
- CSX: Statement in Response to Demands for Financial Reparations, 16 Aug 2002
- Aetna: Statement Regarding Slavery Reparations Lawsuit, 27 Mar 2002

- Plaintiffs’ press release: “Slave Descendant Takes Reparations Case to the United States Supreme Court”, 23 May 2007
- [PDF] Corporate Restitution for Slavery: Plaintiff and Defendant Information, Deadria C. Farmer-Paellmann [plaintiff]

US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit: In re African-American Slave Descendants Litigation:

Decision reversing the lower court’s dismissal in part and affirming the dismissal in part, 13 Dec 2006 
- briefs by plaintiffs & defendants are here
- MP3 audio of oral argument is here

US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois:

In re African-American Slave Descendants Litigation, 6 Jul 2005 [opinion dismissing plaintiffs’ claims]
- [PDF] In re African-American Slave Descendants Litigation - Defendants' Joint Motion to Dismiss, 18 Jul 2003
- [PDF] Farmer-Paellmann v. FleetBoston et al. - First Consolidated and Amended Complaint and Jury Demand, 16 Jun 2003

US District Court for the Eastern District of New York

- [PDF] Farmer-Paellmann v. FleetBoston et al. - Complaint, 26 Mar 2002