What: U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan will hold a “fairness hearing” to determine whether to grant final approval to the historic settlement agreement in the case of Keepseagle v. Vilsack, a nationwide class action lawsuit that challenges the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) discrimination against Native American farmers and ranchers in USDA’s farm loan program dating back to 1981. A briefing by plaintiffs will follow the hearing.
When: 10 a.m. EDT, with interview opportunities to follow the Court hearing.
Where: Room 24A, U.S. District Court, 333 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C.; statements by Class Counsel and Class Representatives to follow on courthouse steps, Constitution Avenue entrance.
Who: Native American Plaintiffs/Class Representatives, Class Counsel and a prominent Native American official will be available for interviews following the court appearance. They include:
• Claryca Mandan, Native American rancher and Class Representative, Mandaree, N.D.
• Porter Holder, Native American rancher and Class Representative, Soper, Okla.
• Tex G. Hall, Chairman, Three Affiliated Tribes; Former President, National Congress of American Indians.
• Lead Counsel, Joseph Sellers, partner, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, PLLC, Washington, D.C.
• Other Class Counsel, David Frantz, Conlon, Frantz & Phelan; Anurag Varma, Patton Boggs, LLP; and Paul Smith, Jenner & Block, LLP, Washington, D.C.
Background: In October 2010, the Plaintiffs and the USDA agreed to settle an 11-year-old class action lawsuit brought by Native American farmers and ranchers who allege that since 1981 the USDA has unlawfully denied them credit that was routinely provided to white farmers. Under the settlement agreement, which was preliminarily approved by U.S. District Judge Sullivan on November 1, 2010, the USDA will pay $680 million in damages to thousands of Native American farmers and forgive up to $80 million of outstanding farm loan debt. The $760 million in monetary relief represents about 98 percent of what the Plaintiffs could possibly have won at trial.
The settlement also establishes a host of initiatives that will improve USDA’s farm loan services for Native Americans, including the creation of a new federal advisory committee to promote the rights of Native American farmers and ranchers. All funds for the settlement will be paid from the federal Judgment Fund, which is controlled by the U.S. Department of Justice, and will not have to be approved by Congress. For more information about Keepseagle v. Vilsack and the settlement agreement, visit www.IndianFarmClass.com.