United States District Court, District of Columbia
Stephen S. Hill, Howrey LLP, Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs.
Lisa Ann Olson, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for Defendants.
REGGIE B. WALTON, District Judge.
The plaintiffs in this putative class action are Hispanic farmers who allege that the defendants— the United States, the United States Department of Justice, the United States Department of Agriculture (" USDA" ), and the heads of those agencies— have violated their constitutional rights to due process and equal protection by offering to settle the plaintiffs' discrimination claims on terms less favorable to the settlements provided to similarly-situated African-American and Native American farmers. See First Amended Class Action Complaint for Declaratory, Injunctive, and Other Relief (" Am. Compl." ) ¶¶ 1-2. Currently before the Court is the defendants' motion to dismiss. Upon careful consideration of the parties' submissions, the Court concludes for the following
reasons that the defendants' 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 engaged in the discrimination of individuals on the basis of race, ethnicity, or gender in the administration of its farm benefit programs, and failed to investigate the claims of farmers who filed complaints based on such conduct with [the] USDA." Am. Compl. ¶ 3; see Pigford v. Glickman, Nos. 97-1978, 98-1693 (D.D.C.) (" Pigford I " ) (African-American farmers); Keepseagle v. Vilsack, No. 99-03119 (D.D.C.) (Native American farmers); Garcia v. Vilsack, No. 00-2445 (D.D.C.) (Hispanic farmers); Love v. Vilsack, No. 00-2502 (D.D.C.) (female farmers). A brief overview of those cases is necessary to understand the plaintiffs' claims in this action.
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) (order granting preliminary approval of settlement). The settlement agreement in Keepseagle established an administrative claims process for Native ...