Alleging a pattern of discrimination by the USDA against black farmers in the 1980s and 1990s, in late 2010 the Pigford II case was settled for $1.25 billion and subsequently given preliminary approval by the court. The next key date for claimants is Sept. 1, when the U.S. District Court in D.C will hold a hearing to decide whether to give final approval to the settlement.
If the court approves the settlement, a 180-day claim/filing period will kick in.
Potential Pigford II claimants have already begun calling attorneys and postcard notices have been mailed out. Potential members want to fill out claim forms and attorneys are encouraging them to begin pulling together relevant information.
“180 days will go quickly,” says one attorney, “and there will be a lot of people trying to file. The sooner they get their packages together, the better.”
The formal notice on the Pigford II settlement went out the first week of June. The notice certainly stirred interest. On June 6 alone, Pigford II counsel received over 2,000 calls from potential claimants.
Asked about expected numbers of claimants for Pigford II, attorneys are reticent. However, there is potential – assuming every person who might be eligible files a claim – for more than 80,000.
That number is downplayed by Pigford II counsel as extremely unlikely. Regardless, the class will be made up of tens of thousands.
The Pigford II settlement is limited to those who attempted to file a claim in the original 1999 Pigford settlement and were denied because they were too late. The 80,000 theoretically eligible are expected to be winnowed to less than half that – between 20,000 and 40,000.
As for Track A versus Track B cases – and whether the percentages will line up with the original Pigford case – fewer Track B claims are expected with Pigford II.
Winning a Track A claim is easier and means a $50,000 payment, loan forgiveness, and prime future loan positioning.
Track B cases are reserved for those wanting more than the awards listed above. Evidence requirements are much more stringent than with Track A cases. Winners of Track B cases, however, stand to receive millions of dollars along with loan forgiveness and other considerations.
A hypothetical Pigford II timeline for claimant certification and payment hinges on several things. If the court fully approves the settlement on September 1, the 180-day claim period will end on Feb. 28, 2012. Because the settlement pot is capped at $1.25 billion, none of the claimants can be paid prior to all the cases being considered and seeing how many prevail.
And if precedent holds, a large number of claimants will scramble to get into the case near the end of the 180 days. Those cases will have to be reviewed by neutral adjudicators.
That means, at the earliest, it will be late 2012 before successful claimants know how much money they will receive from the settlement pot.
At the same time, there are other class-action discrimination cases against the USDA working their way through the courts. Those include cases brought by women (commonly known as the ‘Love’ case), Native Americans (Keepseagle) and Hispanics (Garcia).
Can claimants be part of more than one of the discrimination suits? It is unlikely.
In the Keepseagle case, the government insisted that Native Americans could file a claim only in that settlement. While the Pigford settlement language does not explicitly address the issue, after court review Pigford II attorneys expect the same restrictions.
While the amount is yet to be decided by the court, Pigford II attorney fees will come out of the $1.25 billion. Attorneys are expected to file a motion later this summer to be paid.