Thursday, November 3, 2011
Analyst in Natural Resources and Rural Development
On April 14, 1999, Judge Paul L. Friedman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia approved a settlement agreement and consent decree in Pigford v. Glickman, a class action discrimination suit between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and black farmers. The suit claimed that the agency had discriminated against black farmers on the basis of race and failed to investigate or properly respond to complaints from 1983 to 1997. The deadline for submitting a claim as a class member was September 12, 2000. As of October 2011, 15,645 (69%) of the 22,720 eligible class members had final adjudications approved.
Many voiced concern over the structure of the settlement agreement, the large number of applicants who filed late, and reported deficiencies in representation by class counsel. A provision in the 2008 farm bill (P.L. 110-246) permitted any claimant who had submitted a late-filing request under Pigford and who had not previously obtained a determination on the merits of his or her claim to petition in federal court to obtain such a determination. A maximum of $100 million in mandatory spending was made available for payment of these claims, and the multiple claims that were subsequently filed were consolidated into a single case, In re Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation (commonly referred to as Pigford II).
On February 18, 2010, Attorney General Holder and Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack announced a $1.25 billion settlement of these Pigford II claims. However, because only $100 million was made available in the 2008 farm bill, the Pigford II settlement was contingent upon congressional approval of an additional $1.15 billion in funding. After a series of failed attempts to appropriate funds for the settlement agreement, the Senate passed the Claims Resolution Act of 2010 (H.R. 4783) to provide the $1.15 billion appropriation by unanimous consent on November 19, 2010. The Senate bill was then passed by the House on November 30 and signed by the President on December 8 (P.L. 111-291).
Like the original Pigford case, the Pigford II settlement provides both a fast-track settlement process and higher payments to potential claimants who go through a more rigorous review and documentation process. A moratorium on foreclosures of most claimants’ farms will remain in place until after claimants have gone through the claims process. On May 13, 2011, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued preliminary approval of the settlement agreement, but the court has not yet granted final approval. If and when that occurs, claim forms will become available, and eligible individuals will have six months to file a claim. Because no payments will be made until the merits of all claims have been heard and because the deadline for filing claims has not yet been established, it is unclear when payments to successful claimants will be made.
This report highlights some of the events that led up to the original Pigford class action suit and the subsequent Pigford II settlement. The report also outlines the structure of both the original consent decree in Pigford and the settlement agreement in Pigford II. In addition, the report discusses the number of claims reviewed, denied, and awarded under Pigford, as well as some of the issues raised by various parties under both lawsuits.
Date of Report: October 24, 2011
Number of Pages:13
Order Number: RS20430
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