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Slavery reparations lawsuit (re USA)

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. 

SlaveryDescendants 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

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27 January 2004

Slavery reparations lawsuit tossed out - Judge rules case has no link to targeted firms [U.S.]

Author: Mike Robinson, Associated Press

A lawsuit by descendants of slaves against corporations they say profited from slavery was dismissed Monday by a federal judge who said no clear link to the targeted companies had been established...The court left the door open for further litigation. [refers to Aetna, Lorillard Tobacco, RJ Reynolds, Brown & Williamson]

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7 January 2004

Slaves' descendants seek landmark day in Chicago court

Author: Carlos Sadovi, Chicago Tribune

[USA]: The suit names companies like the Lehman Brothers brokerage firm, Aetna Insurance and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. It could be dismissed Jan. 26 if Judge Charles Norgle agrees with the defendants' claim that the plaintiffs can't sue for something that happened to their ancestors.

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4 April 2003

Slavery Era Insurance Registry

Author: California Department of Insurance

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20 February 2003

Corporate Bill for Slavery [USA]

Author: John S. Friedman, The Nation

The federal class-action lawsuits [in USA]...seek corporate accountability for profits made from slavery, unspecified damages and the establishment of a fund for the healthcare, housing, education and economic development needs of African-Americans...On the other side of the lawsuits are seventeen powerful corporations. They include financial institutions such as JPMorgan Chase and FleetBoston; insurance companies (e.g., Aetna and New York Life); railroads (Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and CSX); tobacco companies (R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson [part of British American Tobacco]; and a textile manufacturer (WestPoint Stevens). [article includes statements by JPMorgan Chase, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, New York Life]

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2 May 2002

Slave Owners and Their Insurers Are Named [USA]

Author: Dan Morain, Los Angeles Times

The California Department of Insurance on Wednesday identified half a dozen insurance companies that issued slavery-era policies and posted the names of hundreds of slave owners and the slaves they insured on the agency's Web site [firms mentioned in article include New York Life, Aetna, AIG, Royal & Sun Alliance, Manhattan Life & Ace USA]

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2 May 2002

State [California] releases names of slaves who were insured

Author: Sarah Lubman, San Jose Mercury News

The names of hundreds of slaves whose lives were insured before 1865 were released by the state Wednesday, plunging California into the middle of a growing national movement to sue companies for slavery reparations. The information, mandated by a state law passed in 2000, came largely from three insurance companies that do business in California: New York Life, AIG and Aetna

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1 May 2002

California Department of Insurance releases slavery era insurance policy research report

Author: California Department of Insurance

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1 May 2002

report: Slavery Era Insurance Registry Report to the California Legislature

Author: California Department of Insurance

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18 April 2002

Federal Lawsuit [USA] Seeks Slave Reparations from Three Companies

Author: William Baue, SocialFunds.com

[Aetna Inc., CSX Corp., FleetBoston Financial Corp.]

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27 March 2002

Lawsuit Chases Companies Tied to Slavery [USA]

Author: Kelley Vlahos Beaucar, Fox News

A prayer on a Brooklyn street preceded the filing of an unprecedented $1.4 trillion lawsuit against eight major corporations alleged to have profited from their historical ties to the slave trade more than 137 years ago. Claiming to represent all of the United States' 35 million African-Americans, New York slave reparations activist Deadria Farmer-Paellmann named Aetna Inc., CSX Corp. and FleetBoston Financial Corp., among others, as unjustly profiting from the slave trade before the Civil War ended in 1865.

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