U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman recently approved the settlement that authorizes up to $1.25 billion in payments to potentially tens of thousands of black farmers across the country who suffered systematic discrimination by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) from 1981 through 1996.
A meeting in Little Rock today will provide information and assistance to potential claimants. Another meeting will be held in April in Pine Bluff. Click here for more information.
The settlement, which was approved October 28th, now moves into a new phase which involves notifying potential claimants and preparing claim forms to be reviewed by a group of third-party neutrals. These neutrals, an independent group of former judges and lawyers approved by the court, will ultimately be responsible for determining which claims meet the criteria established by Congress. Successful claims will be paid an undetermined amount from the $1.25 billion fund.
According to Henry (Hank) Sanders, a partner with Chestnut, Sanders, Sanders, Pettaway and Campbell, LLC of Selma, Alabama and one of the three lead class counsel in the Black Farmers Settlement, this settlement marks a victory for fairness in the United States.
"On behalf of the thousands of hard-working and well-meaning black men and women who had attempted to earn a living as farmers, but were denied that right as a result of rampant discrimination by the USDA, we are thrilled that justice will now be served," Sanders said. "Unfortunately for many, this settlement comes far too late and may offer too little, but it is still a victory that should be savored by those who value equality."
The work has just begun for class counsel, however. The process to notify and identify the thousands of potential claimants is now underway. A comprehensive notification plan has been developed and will now be implemented. Class counsel will host hundreds of meetings across the country to provide information and assistance to potential claimants.
Greg Francis, shareholder at the Orlando, Fla.-based Morgan & Morgan and one of the lead counsel said, "We are thankful to have this settlement approved, but now the real work begins to ensure that every person who has a successful claim is duly compensated."
About the Black Farmers Settlement:
At issue in the case was the inability of black farmers, or blacks who attempted to farm to obtain loans and grants from the USDA as a result of discrimination at local offices primarily in the Southeast. During the initial "Pigford" case, many black farmers were unaware of filing deadlines and missed their opportunity to participate in the discrimination settlement.
As a result, Congress passed, and President Obama signed into law, as part of the 2008 Farm Bill, a provision that granted potential claimants, who missed the original filing deadline, the right to pursue their discrimination claims. While this law created a cause of action for thousands of additional farmers, the total amount of funding in the bill for payment of claims was limited to $100 million.
In February of 2010, it was recognized that $100 million would not be sufficient to pay all valid discrimination claims. Thus after two years of litigation, attorneys representing the farmers and attorneys from the USDA entered into a settlement agreement that would resolve all claims against the USDA brought under the 2008 Farm Bill and require Congress to fund an additional $1.15 billion for successful claimants (bringing the total to $1.25 billion).
In December 2010, President Obama signed the Claims Resolution Act of 2010 to fund the settlement agreement.
In May 2011, Judge Friedman signed an order granting preliminary approval of the settlement agreement. Shortly thereafter, attorneys for the farmers began making notification of the settlement through a comprehensive direct mail and media campaign.
In October 2011, the settlement was approved, leading to a six-month submission period for farmers seeking to have their claims validated. A panel of third party neutrals will utilize a predetermined set of criteria to review the claims submitted during the 180-day claim period. The neutrals will make the final determination as to which claimants are entitled to a monetary award. It is anticipated that successful claims will be paid in late 2012.
Click here for more information on the Black Farmers Settlement.