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Williams v. Vilsack

June 1, 2009

ROBERT WILLIAMS, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
TOM VILSACK, SECRETARY OF THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiffs Robert and LaVerne Williams allege that they were discriminated against on the basis of race by the United States Department of Agriculture ("USDA") when their application for a farm loan was denied in 2003. Defendant Ed Schafer, Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture (together with the United States and other government officials sued in their official capacities, "Defendants"), deny Plaintiffs' allegations and have filed the pending [223] Motion for Summary Judgment.*fn1 After a searching review of the parties' submissions, relevant case law, statutory authority, and the entire record of the case as a whole, the Court finds that there is no evidence in the record from which to find that Plaintiffs were subject to discrimination based on their race. Accordingly, the Court shall GRANT Defendants' [223] Motion for Summary Judgment, for the reasons that follow.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Statutory and Regulatory Background This case involves the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act, 7 U.S.C. § 1921 et seq., pursuant to which the Farm Service Agency ("FSA") is authorized to make loans to (1) eligible farmers who (2) propose plans of operation that are feasible. See 7 C.F.R. §§ 1910.5, 1941.12, 1941.33. With respect to this first requirement (eligibility), the FSA considers various enumerated criteria, including an inquiry into an applicant's credit history. 7 C.F.R. § 1910.5(b), (c). Pursuant to an instruction issued by the USDA, this inquiry includes an assessment of whether the applicant is "creditworthy" in the sense that he or she must not have provided false information in connection with the loan application:

Applicants... will be determined not creditworthy if they have ever deliberately provided false information, intentionally omitted information relative to the loan decision, or have not made every reasonable effort to meet the terms and conditions of any previous loan.

Defs.' Reply, Ex. A at 2 (Instruction 1910-A(c)). With respect to the second requirement (a feasible plan), the FSA reviews the applicant's plan to assess whether the applicant will be able to:

(1) Pay all operating expenses and all taxes which are due during the projected farm budget period;

(2) Meet necessary payments on all debts; and

(3) Provide living expenses for the [applicant's] family members 7 C.F.R. § 1931.33(b), 1941.4. Only loans that comply with all established policies and regulations, including the requirement that "[t]he proposed loan is based on a feasible plan," are subject to approval. Id. § 1931.33(b).

B. Factual Background

The following material facts are based on undisputed evidence in the record.*fn2 Plaintiffs own a small cotton farm in Roscoe, Texas. Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 1. In early 2003, Plaintiffs applied for a farm loan from the FSA. Id. ¶ 4. In connection with their loan application, Plaintiffs met with Robert Kalina, a Farm Loan Manager. Id. ¶¶ 4, 5. With Mr. Kalina's assistance, Plaintiffs submitted a complete loan application in March 2003. Id. ¶¶ 8, 12.

On April 4, 2003, Mr. Kalina and Plaintiffs developed a Farm and Home Plan (the "Plan") that would "cash flow," a term of art used to describe a feasible plan whereby an applicant is able to (1) pay all of his or her farm operating expenses and taxes, (2) meet necessary payments on debts, and (3) provide living expenses for family members. Id. ¶ 13. The Plan met these requirements by $152. Id.

As part of the loan application process, Mr. Kalina conducted an equipment inspection and appraisal of Plaintiffs' farm operation. Id. ¶ 15. Mr. Kalina observed several pieces of equipment on Plaintiffs' property that were not included in the Plan, including a "4650" tractor. Id. ¶ 15. Plaintiffs informed Mr. Kalina that this equipment, including the 4650 tractor, belonged to his neighbors. Id. Based on the Plan that Mr. Kalina and Plaintiffs created (and Plaintiffs' representations that the equipment visually observed by Mr. Kalina was not owned by them), the FSA initially approved two loans for Plaintiffs -- a refinance loan of $23,500 for tractor repairs on a "4640" tractor, and an operating loan of $55,800. Id. ¶ 14. Problems arose almost immediately.

On April 15, 2003, Mr. Kalina spoke with Plaintiffs about obtaining the financing statement for their 4640 tractor. Id. ¶ 17. For the first time, Plaintiffs informed Mr. Kalina that the requested financing actually related to a 4650 tractor that they had recently purchased, which the Key Brothers Equipment store ("Key Brothers") could verify. Id. ¶ 17. When Mr. Kalina spoke with Key Brothers, he discovered that Plaintiffs owed $23,268 for repairs associated with the 4640 tractor, $24,000 associated with the 4650 tractor (including an outstanding payment of $5,610), and $22,275 for various other parts and repairs. Id. ¶¶ 19, 24. Key Brothers informed Mr. Kalina that approximately $38,280 was needed to bring Plaintiffs' account current. Id. ¶ 19. When Mr. Kalina asked Plaintiffs about the 4650 tractor, Plaintiffs explained that the 4650 tractor that Mr. Kalina previously observed, was an identical model owned by his neighbor, and that his 4650 tractor was located in a friend's barn at the time. Id. ¶ 20. ...


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