UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
December 21, 2007
TIMOTHY PIGFORD, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
CHUCK CONNER, ACTING SECRETARY, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE,*FN1 DEFENDANT.
CECIL BREWINGTON, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
CHUCK CONNER, ACTING SECRETARY, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on a motion to enforce the consent decree filed by Anthony and Selena Miller, who are members of the plaintiff class and successful Track A claimants.*fn2 On June 30, 2005, the Adjudicator issued a decision discharging the Millers' loans pursuant to the debt relief provisions of the Consent Decree governing this case. See Miller Mot. at 3. The Millers argue that the Adjudicator's decision eliminated all interests defendant had in the proceeds of a loan which had been placed in a supervised bank account, thereby entitling the Millers to those proceeds without any restrictions. See id. at 5-7.*fn3
Defendant responds that the Millers are not entitled to the proceeds because that the Adjudicator's decision eliminated the Millers' obligation to repay USDA, but did not eliminate the "separate and distinct obligation" to use the loan proceeds only for hog farming purposes. Id. at 9. Thus, reasons defendant, because the Millers still do not have the permits required to engage in hog farming, they have no legal right to recover or use the funds at issue. See id. at 8-9. Defendant further contends that the Millers' continuing inability to use the proceeds gives defendant authority to reclaim and retain the proceeds as "unexpended loan funds." See id. at 9-10; see also 7 C.F.R. § 1902.15(b) (2005).
In light of the parties' positions, the nature of the controversy, and the relatively small amount in dispute -- approximately $23,000 -- the Court concludes that this matter would benefit from settlement discussions. The Court therefore will order the parties to initiate negotiations and to contact the court-appointed Monitor, Randi Ilyse Roth, to discuss ways in which the Monitor and her Office can facilitate the parties' efforts. The Court urges both sides to approach the issue with a degree of flexibility in order to achieve a fair and efficient resolution without judicial intervention.
In the event that the parties are unable to resolve their differences, the Court will require additional briefing to reach a decision. In their reply brief, the Millers argue that they became "paid-up borrowers" under the applicable USDA supervised bank account regulation when the Adjudicator discharged their debts. See Miller Reply at 2-3; see also 7 C.F.R. § 1902.15(d) (2001) ("paid-up borrower" regulation in effect at the time of the Adjudicator's decision in the Millers' case).*fn4 The Court finds this argument persuasive, at least on first reading. If the Millers are correct, then it is possible that defendant's own regulation establishes the Millers' entitlement to the funds at issue. The Court therefore believes it would be useful for defendant to respond to this argument (addressing, for example, whether the Millers' interpretation is correct and whether any subsequent revisions to this regulation or other regulations should affect the analysis), and for the Millers to offer further support for their interpretation of the "paid-up borrower" regulation and its applicability to them. The Court also believes it would be useful for both parties to address certain related matters, such as (1) whether other federal agencies with authority to enter into supervised bank account agreements have confronted analogous situations and, if so, how they have resolved those situations; (2) whether creditor-debtor law or property law sheds any light on the effect of the Adjudicator's decision on the parties' interests in the supervised bank account proceeds; and (3) whether there is any helpful discussion of these or closely related issues in recent case law.
Accordingly, it is hereby
ORDERED that the parties pursue further settlement discussions with the assistance of the court-appointed Monitor, Randi Ilyse Roth. The Monitor's Office may be reached via telephone at 1-877-924-7483; and it is FURTHER ORDERED that if the parties are unable to reach a settlement agreement on or before February 1, 2008, they shall file supplemental briefs as follows. On or before February 20, 2008, defendant shall file a supplemental brief addressing the Millers' argument that the Millers are entitled to the proceeds of the supervised bank account as "paid up borrowers" under all applicable USDA regulations. The Millers may respond to defendant's supplemental brief on or before March 5, 2008. The supplemental briefs should address the matters listed above.