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Garcia v. Vilsack

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 13, 2014

GUADALUPE L. GARCIA, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
THOMAS J. VILSACK, Secretary, The United States Department of Agriculture, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

REGGIE B. WALTON, United States District Judge.

The plaintiffs in this civil action are Hispanic farmers who allege that the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) discriminated against them on the basis of national origin in the administration of its farm loan and disaster benefit programs, and that it failed to timely resolve their discrimination complaints. Third Amended Class Action Complaint ¶¶ 102, 113, 115. The Black Farmers & Agriculturalists Association, Inc. (“Association”) has moved to intervene in this action pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24. Motion of Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, Inc. to Intervene (“Mot.”) at 1. Upon careful consideration of the relevant submissions, [1] the Court concludes that it must deny the motion for the reasons set forth below.[2]

I. BACKGROUND

Between 1997 and 2000, African-American, Native American, Hispanic, and female farmers filed four similar class action lawsuits alleging that the USDA engaged in widespread discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, or gender in the administration of its farm loan and benefit programs, and that it routinely failed to investigate complaints of such discrimination. See Pigford v. Glickman, Nos. 97-1978, 98-1693 (D.D.C. filed Aug. 28, 1997, July 7, 1998) (“Pigford I”) (African-American farmers); Keepseagle v. Vilsack, No. 99-03119 (D.D.C. filed Nov. 24, 1999) (Native American farmers); Garcia v. Vilsack, No. 00-2445 (D.D.C. filed Oct. 13, 2000) (Hispanic farmers); Love v. Vilsack, No. 00-2502 (D.D.C. filed Oct. 19, 2000) (female farmers). Judge James Robertson, a former member of this Court, denied the plaintiffs’ motions for class certification in this action and in Love v. Vilsack.[3] See Garcia v. Veneman, 224 F.R.D. 8 (D.D.C. 2004), aff’d and remanded sub nom. Garcia v. Johanns, 444 F.3d 625 (D.C. Cir. 2006); Love v. Veneman, 224 F.R.D. 240 (D.D.C. 2004), aff’d in part, remanded in part sub nom. Love v. Johanns, 439 F.3d 723 (D.C. Cir. 2006). The defendant has, however, developed an administrative claims process for Hispanic and female farmers to resolve their claims of discrimination against the USDA. See Defendant’s Eighth Status Report at 1, ECF No. 218; Defendant’s Status Report at 1, Love, No. 00-2502 (D.D.C. Jan. 20, 2012), ECF No. 155. Participation in the administrative claims process is conditioned on dismissal of a farmer’s legal claims against the USDA. See Defendant’s Eighth Status Report, Exhibit (“Ex.”) 1 (Framework for Hispanic or Female Farmers’ Claims Process) at 6, ECF No. 218-1; Defendant’s Status Report, Ex. 1 (Framework for Hispanic or Female Farmers’ Claims Process) at 6, Love, No. 00-2502 (D.D.C. Jan. 20, 2012), ECF No. 155-1.

The Association is “a not-for-profit organization created for the specific purpose of responding to the issues and concerns of Black Farmers in the United States and abroad, ” Mot. at 2, and it seeks to intervene in this action and Love on behalf of its members who asserted time-barred claims in Pigford I, see Mot. at 6; Mot., Ex. 1 (Proposed Complaint) ¶¶ 15, 19. A brief overview of the Pigford litigation is necessary to understand the Association’s asserted interest in this case and in Love.

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.[4] 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).[5]Pigford v. Glickman, 185 F.R.D. 82, 92 (D.D.C. 1999). Following the Court’s class certification rulings, the Pigford I parties 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 established 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” with a provision in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (“2008 Farm Bill”), id., which 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, ” id. (quoting Pub. L. 110–234, § 14012(b), 122 Stat. 923, 1448 (2008)). After this provision became effective, thousands of African-American farmers filed suit in this Court. Id. at 13. The Association also brought suit on behalf of its members who were eligible to file claims under the 2008 Farm Bill. Complaint to Determine Merits and Damages Pursuant to § 14012 of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 ¶ 1, Black Farmers & Agriculturalists Ass’n, Inc. v. Schafer, No. 08-1188 (D.D.C. July 9, 2008), ECF No. 1. These cases were all subsequently consolidated before Judge Friedman, and are collectively known as Pigford II. In re Black Farmers, 856 F.Supp.2d at 13.

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. Judge Friedman certified a settlement class consisting of “[a]ll individuals: (1) who submitted Late-Filing Requests under Section 5(g) of the Pigford v. Glickman Consent Decree on or after October 13, 1999, and on or before June 18, 2008; but (2) who have not obtained a determination on the merits of their discrimination complaints . . . .” Id. at 15. Notably, unlike the Pigford I class, Pigford II class members were not permitted to opt out of the class. See id. at 9, 32–33. The order and judgment granting approval of the settlement agreement provided that

the Class Representatives, the Class, and its members and their heirs, administrators, successors, and assigns release, waive, acquit and forever discharge the United States and the Secretary from and are forever barred and precluded from prosecuting, any and all claims, causes of action, or requests for any monetary relief . . . that have been or could have been asserted in the Consolidated Case by reason of, with respect to, in connection with, or which arise out of, any matters alleged in the Consolidated Case that the Class Representatives, the Class, and its members, and their heirs, administrators, successors, and assigns have against the United States or the Secretary, or any of them.

Order and Judgment ¶ 19, Pigford II, No. 08-mc-0511 (D.D.C. Oct. 27, 2011), ECF No. 231. The Association was terminated as a party in Pigford II, Amended Class Action Complaint to Determine Merits and Damages Pursuant to § 14012 of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, As Amended at 1 n.1, Pigford II, No. 08-mc-0511 (D.D.C. Apr. 5, 2011), ECF No. 163, and is not a member of the settlement class, see Latham v. Vilsack, Nos. 11-5326, 11-5334, 12-5019, 2012 WL 10236550, at *1 (D.C. Cir. July 25, 2012).

The Association seeks to intervene in this litigation to assert two claims. Mot., Ex. 1 (Proposed Complaint) ¶¶ 16–23. First, it seeks a declaration finding that “both the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clauses of the United States Constitution mandate[] that its members who are eligible ‘Pigford claimants’ under the 2008 Farm Bill, but did not timely file claims are entitled to file claims, under the framework established for Hispanic and female farmers.” Id. ¶ 19. The Association’s second claim is for injunctive relief with respect to the USDA’s current loan approval process, specifically, “a permanent injunction against [the] USDA and its subordinate county level loan processing entities to refrain from discrimination in processing loan applications of Black Farmers, ” id. ¶ 21, and “an order restructuring the present loan approval process that removes the [county][6] and local level aspects of the process and replaces it with a more equitable organizational structure, ” id. ¶ 22. Both the defendant and the plaintiffs oppose the motion to intervene.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Association seeks to intervene as a matter of right pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a), or, in the alternative, ...


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