ATLANTA....On Wednesday, May 28, 2008 attorneys J.L. Chestnut, David Frantz and Phil Fraas filed a new class action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia. This lawsuit would form a class of the approximately 63,000 Black farmers who were “late filers” from the earlier Pigford Class action lawsuit, in which the above attorneys served as class counsel. The filing is in response to the recent Farm Bill which included a provision to assist the Black farmers who were not able to file a claim in the Pigford lawsuit because they had missed the initial deadline. All of these farmers have a tracking number.
Because of the recent Congressional legislation to assist Black farmers, there is reason to urge caution on the part of farmers so they can benefit from this opportunity as much as possible. Farmers should be wary of people who ask them to pay money up-front to participate in this new litigation. That should not be necessary. Again, farmers should be careful and cautious and and read carefully anything they get regarding the lawsuit. This might be a long process because the there could possibly be a number of court hearings that might not be favorable to a quick resolution of these issues.
Below please find the press release from the attorneys who filed the complaint.
USDA Discrimination Lawsuit Filed; To Bring Closure To Drawn-Out Scandal
Washington, D.C. (May 29, 2008)—Lawyers for five African-American farmers who are Pigford case “late filers” announced that they had filed a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture on May 28, 2008 in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of the five farmers and all other Pigford “late filers.” The action, Kimbrough, et al., v. Schafer, seeks damages from USDA for decades of USDA racial discrimination in the operation of the agency’s farm loan and support programs, and is intended to provide relief for the thousands of African-American farmers who were shut out of the 1999 settlement in the original discrimination lawsuit against USDA, Pigford v. Glickman.
The Pigford case awarded almost $1 billion to African-American farmers whose civil rights had been violated by USDA, but did not reach all farmers potentially eligible for the relief. In hearings held by Congress in 2004 and again last year, it was determined that tens of thousands of potential Pigford claimants had not gotten fair notice of the settlement from the TV, radio, and print campaign about the settlement in early 1999, and that, as a matter of fundamental fairness, they should be given another chance to obtain relief for the USDA discrimination. Congress did just that in the recently enacted 2008 farm bill when it included a provision authorizing for African-American farmers who would have qualified for Pigford relief to seek redress in Federal court.
Lead counsel in the Kimbrough case is J.L. Chestnut, a noted civil rights attorney who practices in Selma, Alabama. Chestnut explained, “The farm bill provision is a godsend to the thousands of Black farmers victimized by USDA discrimination who didn’t get a fair opportunity to participate in the Pigford settlement. We hope our lawsuit will provide them the justice they deserve and finally close the books on this sad chapter in USDA’s history.”
Co-counsel, David Frantz of Washington, D.C., noted, however, that the farm bill included only $100,000,000 to cover all new claims and that likely that amount will be insufficient to fully compensate all farmers with successful rulings. “One thing our complaint does is ask the court to hold off paying on individual claims until the full extent of liability under this new farm bill authority is known. Once that is known, we can allocate the $100,000,000 fairly on a pro rata basis. Then, we would hope Congress appropriate sufficient funds to provide the rest of the money needed for full compensation.”
The next step in the litigation process is for the defendant, Ed Schafer, the Secretary of Agriculture, to file an answer. In the meantime, plaintiff counsel will be educating farmers on their rights under the farm bill and exploring ways to expedite the claims process so that this already long-overdue relief is not further delayed.
For more information, contact co-counsel, Phil Fraas, at 202-223-1499 or firstname.lastname@example.org