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Law Firm Loses Claim for Pigford Attorney’s Fees

(CN) - A Mississippi law firm that briefly represented a black farmer, before he won $6 million as part of the Pigford class action against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is not entitled to attorney's fees, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

Nearly two decades of litigation in Pigford v. Glickman has produced two major settlements for black farmers who claim to have been improperly denied benefits from January 1983 to January 1997 because of racial discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Edward Scott Jr. had been one of thousands who filed for a share of the 1999 settlement based on the failure of his Mississippi row crop and catfish farm in the early 1980s.

From February 1999 to February 2001, Scott was represented by Boone Law Firm.

Though Scott could have taken a $50,000 payout from a settlement option that required a minimal burden of proof, he opted for a one-day mini-trial before an arbitrator where damages were not capped.

After the arbitrator dismissed his claim, Scott petitioned for review pro se and Boone reached a settlement with USDA in 2003 for $580,000.

Scott did not see his claim reinstated, however, until 2006, at which time he was represented by attorney Phillip Fraas.

In 2011 the arbitrator awarded Scott more than $6 million in economic damages, $150,000 in noneconomic damages, and more than $241,000 in debt relief.

After Fraas petitioned for attorney's fees and expenses in May 2014, Boone moved in May for fees and expenses of $435,900 related to its work on the case.

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman in Washington, D.C., nixed Boone's motion on Wednesday, rejecting the firm's claim that Scott's claim was excluded from the $6 million award.

"Boone Law Firm cannot point to any ambiguity in the agreement's expansive language," the opinion states. "And contrary to Boone's contention that the absence of a specific reference to Mr. Scott's claim indicates its exclusion from the settlement, the agreement's settlement of 'any and all' fee claims 'related in any way to any aspect' of these actions for work performed through March 20, 2003, squarely encompasses Boone's work - performed from February 1999 to February 2011 - on Mr. Scott's case.

"By ignoring the plain language of the agreement, Boone Law Firm fails to acknowledge that the firm has already been compensated for the legal fees, costs, and expenses it incurred related to Mr. Scott's claim."

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