United States District Court, District of Columbia
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Alexander John Pires, Jr., Pires Cooley, Barbara S. Wahl, Kristine J. Dunne, Marc L. Fleischaker, Arent, Fox LLP, Phillip L. Fraas, Stinson Morrison Hecker, LLP, Roderic Vonoesen Boggs, Washington Lawyers' Committee, Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs.
Peter T. Wechsler, Michael Sitcov, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for Defendant.
REGGIE B. WALTON, District Judge.
The plaintiffs in this civil action are female farmers who allege that the United States Department of Agriculture (" USDA" ) discriminated against them on the basis of gender by denying them " equal and fair access to farm loans and loan servicing, and of consideration of their administrative complaints." Fourth Amended and Supplemental Complaint (" Am. Compl." ) at 3. Most relevant for present purposes, the plaintiffs also claim that the " USDA offered and is implementing voluntary administrative claims programs to adjudicate the claims of members of other minority groups who suffered similar discrimination," but " has arbitrarily refused to offer equivalent terms to women, further depriving them of equal protection and due process." Id. Currently before the Court is the USDA's motion to dismiss Counts III through VI of the fourth amended complaint. Upon careful consideration of the parties' submissions, the Court concludes for the following reasons that the USDA's motion must be granted.
Between 1997 and 2000, African-American, Native American, Hispanic, and female farmers filed four similar class action lawsuits alleging that " the USDA routinely discriminated in its farm benefit programs on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender, and failed to investigate the claims of farmers who filed discrimination complaints with the agency." Am. Compl. ¶ 75; see Pigford v. Glickman, Nos. 97-1978, 98-1693 (D.D.C.) (" Pigford I " ) (African-American farmers); Keepseagle v. Vilsack, No. 99-3119 (D.D.C.) (Native American farmers); Garcia v. Vilsack, No. 00-2445 (D.D.C.) (Hispanic farmers); Love v. Vilsack, No. 00-02502 (D.D.C.) (female
farmers). A brief overview of those cases is necessary to understand the claims that are the subject of the USDA's motion to dismiss.
On October 9, 1998, Judge Paul L. Friedman of this Court certified Pigford I as a class action pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2) for purposes of liability. Pigford v. Glickman, 182 F.R.D. 341, 352 (D.D.C.1998). Judge Friedman later vacated his original class certification order on January 5, 1999, and certified a new class pursuant to Rule 23(b)(3). Pigford v. Glickman, 185 F.R.D. 82, 92 (D.D.C.1999). Following the Court's class certification rulings, the parties in Pigford I negotiated a class-wide settlement, which Judge Friedman approved in a consent decree issued on April 14, 1999. Id. at 113. The Pigford I consent decree " did not provide for the automatic payment of damages to any plaintiff" ; rather, " it established a non judicial mechanism," i.e., an administrative claims process, " by which each class member would have an opportunity to demonstrate that he or she had been the victim of past discrimination by the USDA and therefore was entitled to compensatory damages." In re Black Farmers Discrim. Litig., 856 F.Supp.2d 1, 9 (D.D.C.2011).
The Pigford I consent decree imposed a deadline for African-American farmers to submit their claims for administrative adjudication, id. at 10, and many farmers tried, unsuccessfully, to file claim packages after the deadline expired, id. at 11. To address this problem, " Congress resurrected the claims of those who had unsuccessfully petitioned the Arbitrator for permission to submit late claim packages" by enacting " the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008." Id. This Act provides that " [a]ny Pigford claimant who has not previously obtained a determination on the merits of a Pigford claim may, in a civil action brought in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, obtain that determination." Pub.L. 110-234, § 14012(b), 122 Stat. 923, 1448 (2008). After the Act became effective, thousands of African-American farmers filed suit in this Court. In re Black Farmers, 856 F.Supp.2d at 13. Those cases are collectively known as Pigford II. Id. The parties in Pigford II reached a class-wide settlement agreement on February 18, 2010, id., which Judge Friedman approved, id. at 42. The settlement agreement largely maintained the administrative claims process utilized in Pigford I, with some modifications. Id. at 22.
Keepseagle proceeded much like Pigford I, albeit at a different pace. Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of this Court certified that case as a class action pursuant to Rule 23(b)(2). See Keepseagle v. Veneman, No. 99-03119, 2001 WL 34676944, at *1 (D.D.C. Dec. 12, 2001). Nine years later, in 2010, the parties reached a class-wide settlement agreement, which Judge Sullivan approved. See Keepseagle v. Veneman, No. 99-03119, ECF No. 577 (D.D.C. Nov. 1, 2010) ...