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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Female & Latino Farmers Trip in Settlement Fight

(CN) - A federal judge refused to alter the claims process for Latinos and women fighting biased farm benefit programs on the heels of a $1.25 billion award to black farmers.

Between 1997 and 2000, black, Native American, Latino and female farmers filed class actions that accused the U.S. Department of Agriculture of carrying out years of discriminatory practices, denying them benefits and ignoring their complaints.

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman and U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan presided over the black and Native American cases respectively.

In the meantime, former U.S. District Judge James Robertson presided over the Latino and female farmer litigation. Robertson denied those two groups class certification.

Though each case resulted in settlement agreements, members of the Latino and female groups complain that they were stuck with a more difficult claims process for relief than what was available to black and Native American farmers. They say the process is unconstitutional and discriminates against them because they allegedly must do more to obtain compensation.

The claims failed Tuesday to sway U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, who took over the Latino and female farmer cases when Robertson retired.

"Coercing parties to settle is not only beyond a federal court's authority, but also is prohibited by the ethical rules that govern the conduct of federal judges," Walton wrote.

The judge tossed the farmers' claims for declaratory and injunctive relief on Tuesday in similar 10-page opinions.

"Because this court is powerless to compel the USDA to settle with the plaintiffs in any particular manner or on any particular terms, it cannot grant the injunctive relief requested by the plaintiffs," Walton wrote in the ruling against the female farmers. He made a similar finding in the order against the Latino farmers.

Even if he declared the claims process unconstitutional, Walton said the court cannot invalidate the settlements for black and Native American farmers, and it cannot force the government to offer equivalent settlements across the board.

Walton concluded that the declaratory and injunctive relief requested by the farmers would not redress their alleged injuries, and he dismissed the claims for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

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