Federal Judge’s Decision Closes Black Farmers’ Lawsuit, Leaves Some Disappointed
A federal judge’s recent ruling has finally settled outstanding issues in the black farmers’ long-running lawsuit, nearly 30 years after I first started protesting discrimination by the United States Department of Agriculture, Congress and the Department of Justice U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman’s recent ruling will put to rest the expectation of compensation that many farmers still hold. Our phone lines ring constantly from black farmers who either have been denied in the lawsuit’s adjudication process or believe their applications to join the suit are still pending.
The deadline to join the case passed nearly two years ago, in May 2012. It took decades to reach that date, when the black farmer’s bill we lobbied for over several for decades was signed into law on December 8, 2010. I wore out many pairs of shoes on Capitol Hill trying to persuade Congress to pass the Cobell Settlement legislation for $3.4 billion and the black farmers’ settlement bill for $1.15 billion.
Of the 80,000 black farmers who filed late were eligible to take part in the settlement, over 17,000 plaintiffs received a $50,000 cash award and $12,500 in an IRS account to pay related taxes.
Because the settlement took decades to resolve many black farmers died waiting for justice. Many of their families are now dealing with heirs’ claims. The remaining farmers received a denial letter. The National Black Farmers Association answers every call, but it’s a frustrating process, for we have very limited resources and the farmers need and deserve answers.
Judge Friedman’s recent decision provides clarity to black farmers who were denied in the settlement process. Read the ruling here.
Sadly, some of those still seeking compensation were the victims of fraud, the kind of scurrilous scams that usually turn up when a person or group receives a windfall. We get calls from black farmers who seem to think they have applied in the settlement process, despite my many warnings about schemers who charged some farmers a $100 fee and pretended to file their claims.
The settlement process was abused. There was no fee to file. There are no billions of dollars to compensate those who were denied in the settlement. The black farmer settlement is over and Judge Friedman’s decision provided little hope for those who were denied in the process.
Our work is not finished. Black farmers still face unfair practices and still struggle to gain our rightful place in America’s agriculture and food production systems. For example black farmers have yet to supply McDonald’s with one egg or slice of lettuce or onion. Black families are welcomed as consumers. We’re seen as good enough to purchase a Big Mac or Happy Meal but not good enough to sell to corporate producers. It’s a sickening realization. This is an example of discrimination against a group of people. It contributes to the decline of the black farmer as well as loss of land.
With such injustices outstanding, I regret the need to discourage anyone’s expectations, but I am obliged to provide the facts of the case. I know and understand that the judge’s decision was not what the denied black farmers wanted to hear from the court. But I respect the decision. I and others worked hard and fought long to win payments to deserving black farmers. It is hurtful to know others come along and take advantage of some elderly black farmers who had already endured mistreatment by their own government.
• May 13, 2011 — Preliminary Approval granted by the Court
• June 3, 2011 — Notice period — Notice was sent to potential class members regarding when the Court was to conduct a Fairness Hearing to decide whether to grant final approval to the settlement and how class members could submit any comments or objections to the settlement.
• August 12, 2011 — Objection deadline and deadline to submit a notice of intent to appear and speak at the fairness hearing.
• September 1, 2011 – Fairness Hearing to hear any objections and decide whether to grant final approval.
• October 27, 2011 — Final Approval granted by the Court.
• November 14, 2011 — May 11, 2012 — Claim submission period
• May 11, 2012 — CLAIM FORMS MUST HAVE BEEN POSTMARKED NO LATER THAN MAY 11, 2012.
• July 19, 2013 — Claim adjudications — The Court-appointed neutral third parties finished their review of all completed claims timely submitted by class members.
• August 2, 2013 — Computation of settlement payments — The claims administrator computed the number of approved claims and the amount of the awards to be paid to successful class members and prepared the formal accounting required by the settlement agreement.
• August 23, 2013 — Approval of class counsel’s motion for approval of payments — As required by the settlement agreement, on August 6, class counsel filed with the Court a motion for approval of distribution of funds. This motion was unopposed, and the Court entered an order granting the motion on August 23.
• August 31, 2013 — Claim determination letters mailed by the end of August to all successful class members as well as to class members whose claims were denied checks to be sent to successful class members approximately 30 days after the claim determination letters were mailed