The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, March 28, 2004

Reparations case marmalised by judge

I've just had the treat of reading the 75 page Aetna opinion of January 26 2004 [1] - the case is properly called Re African-American Slave Defendants Litigation - by Judge Charles Norgle (in the Northern District of Illinois, not New York, as I'd thought).

There can seldom have been so long an opinion for so patently meritless a claim. It was as if, given an enormous parcel on his birthday, the judge had patiently undone the many layers of wrappings and found no present inside!

And the interest in the case is not diminished by the fact that it is decided on procedural, rather than substantive, grounds.

The effect of the opinion is cumulative; but a couple of quotes will give a flavour.

One of the many reasons to grant the motion to dismiss was failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted (p57a):
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.

On statute of limitations, the plaintiffs argued that the discovery rule should apply to stop time running against their claims [2]. The judge commented (p67a):
Plaintiffs are attempting to recover for injuries incurred by their ancestors over a century ago. Plaintiffs' ancestors knew or should have known that they were being brutalized and wrongfully forced to work for people, plantations, companies and industries without being compensated. If they did not know of their exact injury at the time it occurred, they certainly should have known of it after the Civil War, the passing of the Civil War Amendments, or even the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Now, all judges are human, and maybe Judge Norgle erred on one or two of the points on which the case foundered. But on every point?

Judging by the press reports (the one or two I've looked at!) - such as this - the plaintiffs won't be appealing.

My guess: the case is not merely dead, it's really most sincerely dead.

  1. Mentioned in the next door piece on Brown University. It's a 5MB file because it's been converted to PDF as images. Which means copy-typing, rather than copy/pasting. Yuk!

  2. Very roughly: the limitation period is tolled - the clock frozen - until the plaintiff should with due diligence have discovered the injury done to him.

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