Black Farmer Lobbyists Denied Settlement Fees

     (CN) – A group that “fought tirelessly to remedy years of discrimination against black farmers” are not entitled to a piece of their class-action settlement, a federal judge ruled.
     The National Black Farmers Association (NBFA) had been instrumental in securing relief for the thousands of individuals who missed the deadline to submit claims in the Pigford v. Glickman consent decree from 1999. That action claimed that U.S. Department of Agriculture officers were racially motivated when they denied benefits to black applicants and ignored their complaints from January 1983 to January 1997.
     John Boyd Jr., president of the advocacy group, had been one of 20,000 farmers who filed successfully for a share of the 1999 settlement. He hired James Farrin to represent the black farmers in the second lawsuit, and that lawyer retained help from Crowell & Moring attorney Andrew Marks.
     With Boyd’s political advocacy and the lawyers’ work in the new lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman approved a new settlement of $1.25 billion in 2011.
     Boyd sued Farrin and Marks when the attorneys filed for fees and did not seek payment on behalf of the advocates.
     Last month, Friedman granted an award of $90.8 million in attorneys’ fees that excluded the NBFA and Boyd.
     U.S. District Judge Richard Leon dismissed the advocates’ complaint last week for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim.
     Since he qualifies as neither a plaintiff nor an attorney this time around, the settlement money is off limits to Boyd, according to the 15-page ruling.
     Leon noted that cy pres beneficiaries – specifically nonprofit organizations that advocate for black farmers – are eligible for leftover settlement funds.
     “While NBFA could potentially qualify for compensation as a cy pres beneficiary, NBFA seeks compensation in this case not as a cy pres beneficiary but rather as a plaintiff and/or via attorneys’ fees – both of which are impermissible,” Leon wrote.
     On Thursday another member of the court, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman, gave a favorable ruling to Maurice McGuinness, a black farmer who filed under the 1999 consent decree.
     Though McGuinness had prevailed with a so-called Track A claim and was issued $50,000 in exchange for a minimal burden of proof, the farmer claimed that he had requested to have his claim arbitrated under Track B, which imposed no cap on damages but required claimants to prove their claims by a more demanding preponderance-of-the-evidence standard in one-day mini-trials.
     Friedman said McGuinness can get his wish.

%d bloggers like this: