FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 4, 2009  
Contact: Heather Gray - 404 765 0991

FACT SHEET on BLACK FARMERS CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT

In June 2008, Congress passed "The Food Conservation and Energy Act of 2008" (PL 110-246) which contains Section 14012 that provides a new opportunity for “late claim filers” in the Pigford Black Farmers Class Action Lawsuit to have their cases heard. This section permits Black farmers to file a legal action in the same court (U. S. District Court in Washington, D. C.) that heard the original case.

To be included in this new case (Pigford 2), farmers must meet two basic “tests”. First, they must have filed a “late claim” in the original case (Pigford 1) and second they must meet the requirements to be part of the class in the original case. A group of lawyers for Black farmers have already filed a case in the D. C. District Court. Some of the final decisions on the interpretation and implementation of these provisions in the 2008 Farm Bill will depend the decisions and rulings of the judge in this new case.

The first test is where are you on the “time line” of this case. The priority consideration goes to those Black farmers who filed a late claim petition between October 12, 1999 and September 15, 2000. Most of these 65,000 farmers had their late claim denied by Michael Lewis, Chief Arbitrator in the case and Section 14012 of the 2008 Farm Bill was designed to override these denials and give Black farmers another chance to have their cases heard.

The judge will determine how far to extend the definition of a late filer in the case (please see the time lines below). Those who filed by the late claim deadline of September 15, 2000 have the best chance. Those who filed after this date will have to depend on the decision of the judge in the case. Those who did not file a late claim with the Claims Facilitator in Portland, Oregon, and did not receive a tracking number, have a more limited chance, which is subject to the judge’s rulings in the case.

Farmers may call the Claims Facilitator in Portland, Oregon at 800-646-2873 to determine if they filed a late claim, the date of their claim and their tracking number, if one was issued to the farmer.

The second test for farmers is that they must meet the requirements of the class in the original Pigford lawsuit. They must be able to answer “yes” to all three questions, which form the basis of their actual claim in the case. These three questions are:

1. Are you an African- American who farmed, or attempted to farm at anytime between January 1, 1981 and December 31, 1996?

2. Between January 1, 1981 and December 31, 1996, did you apply or attempt to participate in a farm loan program or other benefit program with USDA?

3. Between January 1, 1981 and July 1, 1997, did you make a verbal or written complaint of discrimination against USDA concerning treatment you received in the application process? The discrimination complaint may have been presented directly to USDA or to some other public official.

Time Lines in the Pigford Lawsuit (Pigford 1 and Pigford 2)

October 9, 1998 – Class Certification in Pigford granted by the Court

April 14, 1999 – Consent Decree Approved
The court approves the Consent Decree (what the parties agreed to in the
settlement) after a Fairness Hearing.

October 12, 1999 – Deadline for Claim Sheets to be Submitted
Six months after approval of Consent Decree: 21,776 individuals filed a claim by
this date and were considered eligible by the facilitator.

July 14, 2000 – Court Ruling for Late Filers
The court ruled that individuals could send in an application to provide information about the extraordinary circumstances (as spelled out in Section 5g of the Consent Decree) as to why they missed the October 12, 1999 deadline. The deadline for the late filers was September 15, 2000.

September 15, 2000 – Late Filers “Application” Deadline
For those who did not submit a claim by October 12, 1999, there was an opportunity to submit an “application/affidavit” to the arbitrator to explain why the October 1999 deadline was missed. The person had to convince the arbitrator of the extraordinary circumstances that prevented him or her from submitting a claim. 65,000 farmers filed during this period and all were given tracking nukbers by the arbitrator.

October 15, 2000 - Additional Late Filers
10,000 additional people sent in an “application/affidavit” to the aribitrator 30 days after the September 15, 2000 deadline for late filers some of whom said their form had been sent on time. All of these were given tracking numbers.

2003 - Arbitrator Ends Providing Tracking Numbers
Farmers continued to call the arbitrator and were given tracking numbers until 2003.

 



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Note: The Federation/LAF, now in its 41st year,  assists Black family farmers across the South with farm management, debt restructuring, alternative crop suggestions, marketing expertise and a whole range of services to ensure family farm survivability. 

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