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Hansberry v. Lee

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Brief Fact Summary.

Hansberry, a black businessman who sought to purchase property in a subdivision. Lee, a white homeowner, along with other individuals, sought to enjoin Hansberry’s purchase of property based on a racially restrictive covenant. Hansberry appealed from a Illinois Supreme Court decision that decided that Hansberry was bound by an earlier litigation on the issue that upheld the covenant.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Members of a class not present in an action can be bound by a judgment when they are adequately represented by parties in the action, actually participate in the conduct of the litigation in which members are present as parties, or where the interests of the members of the class, some of whom are present, is joint, or where the present and absent parties are in a relationship that permits those present to stand for those absent.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

It is quite another to hold that all those who are free alternatively either to assert rights or to challenge them are of a single class, so that any group, merely because it is of the class so constituted, may be deemed adequately to represent any others of the class in litigating their interests in either alternative.

View Full Point of Law

Burke, a property owner, sought to sell property in a subdivision to Hansberry, a black businessman. Lee, a white homeowner, along with other individuals, sought to enjoin Hansberry’s purchase of property based on a racially restrictive covenant. In a prior litigation involving a property lease in the subdivision, the court upheld the racially restrictive covenant, based upon a stipulation that the covenant was enforceable because 95% of the subdivision’s homeowners had agreed to it. The Illinois Supreme Court held that Hansberry was bound by the decision in the earlier litigation. Hansberry appealed.


Did the Illinois Supreme Court err in deciding that Petitioner was bound by the judgment rendered in the earlier litigation?


Yes. The Illinois Supreme Court erred in concluding that the prior litigation was a class action lawsuit or representative suit and that Petitioners were members of the class represented by the plaintiffs in that earlier litigation, bound by its result.


The plaintiffs in the earlier litigation did not seek to enforce the racially restrictive covenant on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated. They did not designate defendants as a class or seek relief against parties other than the named defendants in that action. Under these facts, allowing the earlier litigation to apply to the current matter would attribute to the parties in that earlier litigation a power that they did not assume and a responsibility that they could not properly discharge.

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