Black Farmers Lose Bid for Share of Settlement

     (CN) – A federal judge will not force the U.S. government to give 264 black farmers another chance to claim a share of a hefty discrimination settlement.
     The government agreed to compensate farmers wronged by the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the many years that it denied benefits to black applicants based on race and ignored their complaints.
     In October 2011, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman approved a $1.25 billion settlement agreement, which lays out a claims resolution process.
     Two groups of individuals whose claims were rejected have asked the court to modify the agreement, a request that the government opposed.
     The first group complained that it received a confusing sequence of letters and, thus, should have more time to turn in corrections. An initial letter instructed the claimants to provide missing information, while a second letter – confirming receipt of the original form – contained language that led them to believe no further action was necessary.
     A separate group of claimants left some blanks empty, but did provide all of the required information elsewhere on the form, which they say should suffice.
     In accordance with the settlement agreement, the claims administrator gave both groups 30 days to make corrections, a deadline that the claimants failed to meet.
     “The court previously has granted two similar motions filed by the plaintiffs in response to unforeseen logistical developments in the claims resolution process that threatened to unfairly prevent select groups of claimants from having their claims adjudicated,” Friedman wrote. “Granting those motions arguably permitted variance from the strict terms of the settlement agreement.”
     In those instances the government refrained from opposing the motions, the judge noted.
     “By contrast, the government views the proposed modifications to the order and judgment that are presently on the table as inconsistent with the settlement agreement, and it opposes the modifications on that basis,” Friedman states.
     The judge issued his 8-page opinion denying the modifications on Friday.
     “Because the plaintiffs are seeking to alter terms that were bargained for by the parties and inscribed in the settlement agreement, in the absence of significantly changed circumstances, their motion cannot be granted without the consent of the defendant,” Friedman concluded.

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