June 29 2011  

Heather Gray 404 765 0991

Update on the Pigford II Lawsuit

 ATLANTA...On May 13,  2011 Judge Paul Friedman in the US District Court issued an order to preliminarily approve the Pigford II Settlement. This meant that the class action case could enter into the notice phase, which is where we are now. We are told that Judge Friedman will hold the "fairness hearing" for Pigford II on September 1, 2011. Not long after the hearing, we expect to move into the 180 day period for claims submissions. The case has Congressionally approved $1.5 billion. It is expected that no monies for successful claimants will be distributed until, perhaps, sometime in late 2012. The reason for late distribution is because Judge Friedman will likely want to know the entire universe of prevailing claims before monies are distributed. 

The lawsuit is for those who have already filed a petition in the case after the original deadline of October 12, 1999. After that 1999 deadline, in fact, Judge Friedman provided the opportunity for individuals to file a petition up until September 15, 2000 explaining why they had missed the 1999 deadline. These petitioners have yet to file a "claim" in the lawsuit. Another group is those who filed after September 15, 2000 up until June 18, 2008 (below please see an explanation about this group).    

Below is information that might be helpful to those of you interested in following the specifics of the case. 

1) Class definition for Pigford II from the settlement 

The Class is defined as "all individuals:

(1) who submitted late-filing requests under Section 5(g) of the Pigford v. Glickman Consent Decree on or after October 13, 1999 and on or before June 18, 2008; but

(2) who have not obtained a determination on the merits of their discrimination complaints, as defined by Section 1(h) of the Consent Decree."

Please note that we were told originally that the class would be those who filed a petition late - up to the deadline of September 15, 2000 (there are some 65,000 in this group). The "late-late" filers, who filed up to June 18, 2008, were a separate group and there was uncertainty what would happen with them. In the settlement they were included. However, the primary claimants are those who filed a petition up to September 15, 2000. Below please find information about the "late-late" filers as described in the settlement: 

(Regarding)"... Class Members who submitted Late-Filing Requests in Pigford after September 15, 2000. If, after making the reduction in subsection (a), the amount of the funds available to pay the prevailing Class Members is insufficient to fully pay Track A Awards and Track B Awards, the awards for those claimants who submitted Late-Filing Requests in Pigford after September 15, 2000 will be reduced by up to 30%. If, after making the reduction in subsection (a), the amount of the funds available to pay the prevailing Class members is sufficient to fully pay Track A Awards and Track B Awards, no reduction is applied."

(2)  Notice Phase

In this first phase of the notice, a postcard has gone to all those in the Section 5(g) referred to above. It includes a toll free number for potential claimants to call which is 877 810 8110 which is the phone number for the claims administrator. Individuals can receive information about the lawsuit as well as sign up for receiving the claims package.  

As mentioned, we are now in the notice period of the lawsuit. A fairly extensive notice to late filers is now being implemented by Kinsella Media. Their plan was approved by the court. It will go on until about mid-July. The plan includes postcards to potential claimants; notices in newspapers; notices in magazines, such as Jet, and agriculture publications; public service announcements on radio stations, etc.

(3) Filing claims

As mentioned, we are not yet at the stage where individuals can a file claim in the lawsuit. This will take place after Judge Friedman approves the settlement, which we expect to take place either sometime in September or in early October.

Once the judge approves the settlement there will be a 180 day period for individuals to file their claim. 

It should be noted that class counsel plans to conduct a test run of the claims process this summer before the fairness hearing, involving as many claimants as it takes to fill out 500 to 1,000 claim forms. Of course, class counsel will "officially" process the claim forms of persons who participate in the trial run after the judge grants final approval.

(4) Time Line

• A few months ago the attorneys in Pigford II submitted the settlement to Judge Paul Friedman in the US District Court. It included the changes requested by Congress.

• On May 13, 2011 Judge Paul Friedman recently "preliminarily" approved the settlement he received from the attorneys. This meant that the "notice" phase of the lawsuit could begin. 

• September 1, 2011 - Judge Paul Friedman will hold the "Fairness Hearing" in his court in Washington DC to hear from farmers. Sometime in September or October (date uncertain), Judge Friedman will approve the settlement after he considers the issues presented at the fairness hearing.

• After Judge Friedman approves the settlement the 180 day (6 months) period for filing claims begins.

• It is expected that no monies will go to claimants who prevail until later in 2012. Judge Friedman is going to want to know the entire universe of those who prevail in the case before distributing money.

Note: The Federation/LAF, now in its 44th 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.