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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Black Farmers Excluded From Deal Lose Bias Suit

(CN) - A federal judge slammed a group of black farmers who submitted a single sentence to show that they were wrongfully excluded from a $1.25 billion discrimination settlement.

The settlement compensates farmers affected by years of discriminatory practices by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which was found to have denied benefits based on race.

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman approved this specific settlement and class certification for those farmers who missed a previous deadline for relief established by the consent decree in Pigford v. Glickman. Class members must have submitted their late claims between Oct. 13, 1999, and June 18, 2008.

More than 100 pro se plaintiffs then sued court-appointed claims administrator Epiq Class Action & Claims Solutions Inc. for refusing to send them claims packages.

Epiq's role as administrator requires that it verify class membership through documentation. The plaintiffs said Epiq discriminated against them.

But Epiq countered the claims with documentation to support why it rejected the settlement requests.

Meanwhile the plaintiffs replied with a solitary sentence that said: "In response to the motion that was filed by the defendant on September 14, 2012, we the plaintiffs were (1) denied due process and (2) were denied packets being mailed to them thereby denying the plaintiffs the opportunity to file a claim by May 11, 2012 in the Black Farmers Settlement."

Noting the farmers' meager showing, Friedman awarded Epiq summary judgment and dismissed the case with prejudice on Monday.

"In recognition of their pro se status, the plaintiffs have been treated leniently by the court," Friedman wrote in his four-page order. "But despite being given ample opportunity to do so, they have not responded meaningfully to the defendant's motion, nor have they offered a single factual or legal argument in support of their claims. Even assuming the existence of a cause of action under which the plaintiffs might theoretically be entitled to relief, they have not provided any evidence or even any factual assertions to rebut the defendant's evidence indicating that it has carried out its responsibilities as claims administrator properly with respect to each plaintiff and consistent with the settlement agreement."

In a separate order, Friedman reassigned a breach of contract case against two attorneys who serve as the black farmers' class counsel.

John Boyd Jr. and the National Black Farmers Association say the attorneys owe them for advocacy and lobbying work.

Friedman found that their suit is not related to the black farmers' litigation, which "is no longer pending on the merits and does not involve common issues of fact."

He sent the case to the Calendar and Case Management Committee for random reassignment.

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