Hansberry v. Lee
311 U.S. 32, 61 S. Ct. 115, 85 L. Ed. 22 (1940)
A development in Chicago had a
restrictive covenant that didn't
allow black people to live there. The Hansberrys, who were black, bought
a home in the development and the neighbors (including Lee) attempted to
get the sale rescinded.
The covenant had a provision
that it would into come into effect unless signed by 95% of the
homeowners. But it had only been signed by 54% of the homeowners, so it
wasn't technically in effect.
The Trial Court found for Lee
and rescinded the sale. Hansberry appealed.
The Trial Court looked to
the case of Burke v. Kleiman (277
Ill. App. 519 (1934)). In that case, the same group of homeowners (this time represented by
Burke) sued Kleiman for renting to a black tenant. For some reason, the
parties in that case all agreed that 95% of the homeowners had signed the
covenant (even though only 54% had).
There might have been some
collusion between Burke and Kleiman in order to get the issue declared res
judicata in favor of the racists.
The Court found that,
due to issue preclusion, the fact
that 95% of the homeowners had signed was a settled fact and Hansberry
was bound by that decision (even though the Hansberrys were not party to Burke).
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The Illinois Supreme Court
affirmed. Hansberry appealed.
The Illinois Supreme Court
agreed that Hansberry was bound by the Burke decision, since it was a class action
The Hansberrys argued that
they had been denied due process
under the 14th Amendment.
The US Supreme Court reversed.
The US Supreme Court agreed
with the concept of the class action
lawsuit in general.
However, the Court found that
this case did not meet the requirements of a class action lawsuit, with regards to the procedure and
course of litigation.
Lee and Burke could not be
said to be representing an entire class because a lot of the homeowners disagreed with the covenant
(~46%). If those people wanted to challenge the covenant, they would be
forced to sue themselves! That made no sense.
The homeowners did not
have a "sole and common interest." Burke was claiming that
all of the people he represented wanted the covenant enforced when in
fact some did not.
Because Lee and Burke were
representing only those homeowners that agreed with them, their
representation was not binding on nonparties to the litigation.
Otherwise it would violate due
The basic rule is that, in
order to be considered a class action,
the representatives have to be representing a class of people with similar
interests. You can't bind disparate groups with different interests into
Rule 23 offers four prerequisites to initiating a class
Numerosity, Commonality, Typicality, and Adequacy.
Burke failed on commonality.
Btw, Hansberry's daughter,
Lorraine, became a famous playright who wrote "A Raisin in the
Sun", which was a highly fictionalized version of this case.
Interestingly, Burke, who
initiated the first lawsuit, had a falling out with the homeowners
association, and helped the Hansberrys buy their home as a way of sticking
it to the other homeowners!