United States District Court, District of Columbia
L. FRIEDMAN, United States District Judge.
the Court are eight motions and one "objection"
filed by four sets of pro se parties, three of whom are
individuals or groups of individuals who either filed
unsuccessful Track A claims, unsuccessfully attempted to
late-file Track A claims, or opted-out of the plaintiff
class: (1) Eddie and Dorothy Wise (collectively, "the
Wises"); (2) Theodore F.B. Bates, Ava L. Bates, Karla K.
Bates, Terrie L. Bates, Theodore B. Bates, Jr., Theodore F.B.
Bates, Sr., and Ada C. and Kerry F. Bates (collectively,
"the Bateses"); and (3) Carl Parker on behalf of
the Estate of Robert J. Parker ("Parker"). The
fourth party is Corey Lea, a representative of the Cowtown
Foundation, Inc. ("Cowtown"), who appears to have
no prior connection to this case. The defendant - the United
States Department of Agriculture ("USDA") - opposes
the motions and has supplied a declaration by Bob Etheridge,
North Carolina Executive Director of the USDA's Farm
Service Agency, with respect to the Wises' motions. The
motions seek various forms of relief, discussed in further
detail below, but generally ask for further hearings under
the Consent Decree in this case.
Court has previously considered similar motions - including
some by these same pro se parties - raising the same
arguments on which the movants now base the present motions.
See, e.g., Pigford v. Vilsack, 78
F.Supp.3d 247 (D.D.C. 2015), appeal dismissed (July
20, 2015); Pigford v. Vilsack, No. 97-1978, 2014 WL
6886607 (D.D.C. Dec. 8, 2014); Memorandum Opinion and Order
(Jan. 29, 2013) [Dkt. 1873]. The Court at that time concluded
that it had no authority to entertain these arguments, which
were clearly foreclosed by the terms of the Consent Decree.
The same conclusion holds true today - indeed, even more so
in light of the Wind-down Stipulation and Order rendered on
November 2, 2015 [Dkt. 2008]. Where not foreclosed on
jurisdictional grounds, the pro se motions are barred by the
doctrine of res judicata. The Court therefore will
deny the pro se motions and objection.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
action, a class of African-American farmers sued the USDA for
discriminating against them in the provision of farming
credit and benefits. In April 1999, this Court approved a
Consent Decree that settled the plaintiffs' claims and
created a mechanism for resolving individual claims of class
members outside the traditional litigation process.
Pigford v. Glickman, 185 F.R.D. 82 (D.D.C. 1999).
Class members could choose between two claims procedures,
known as Track A and Track B. Pigford v. Schafer,
536 F.Supp.2d 1, 4 (D.D.C. 2008). Track A claims were decided
by a third-party neutral known as an adjudicator, and
claimants who were able to meet a minimal burden of proof
were awarded $50, 000 in monetary damages, debt relief, tax
relief, and injunctive relief. Id. Track B imposed
no cap on damages and also provided for debt relief and
injunctive relief; but claimants who chose Track B were
required to prove their claims by a preponderance of the
evidence in one-day mini-trials before a third-party neutral
known as an arbitrator. Id. Decisions of the
adjudicator and the arbitrator were final and not subject to
review in any judicial forum, except that the Monitor, a
court-appointed third-party neutral, could - on a petition
filed within 120 days of the decision - direct the
adjudicator and the arbitrator to reexamine claims if the
Monitor determined that "a clear and manifest error
ha[d] occurred" that was "likely to result in a
fundamental miscarriage of justice." Id.
(citing Consent Decree ¶¶ 9(a)(v), 9(b)(v), 10(i),
12(b)(iii) (April 14, 1999) [Dkt 1671); see also Pigford
v. Johanns, 416 F.3d 12, 14 (D.C. Cir. 2005).
class members in 1999 were not required to participate in
that alternative claims resolution process; those
African-American farmers who wished to pursue their
individual claims against the USDA in court were permitted to
opt out of the Pigford plaintiffs' class by
submitting an opt-out request within 120 days of the entry of
the Consent Decree. Consent Decree ¶¶ 2(b), 18;
Pigford v. Glickman, 185 F.R.D. at 95-96. The Court
entered the Consent Decree on April 14, 1999 and, by its
terms, it extinguished the claims against the USDA of all
members of the Pigford plaintiffs' class who did
not opt out of the Consent Decree in a timely fashion.
Consent Decree ¶¶ 2(b), 18; Pigford v.
Veneman, 208 F.R.D. 21, 23 (D.D.C. 2002).
end of the claims resolution process, nearly 23, 000
claimants had been found eligible to participate, and the
federal government had provided more than $ 1 billion in
total relief to prevailing claimants. See
Monitor's Final Report on Good Faith Implementation of
the Consent Decree and Recommendations for Status Conference
at 1 (Apr. 1, 2012) [Dkt. 1812]. In addition, Congress
enacted in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 a
provision that potentially would subsequently resurrect the
claims of more than 60, 000 potential claimants who were
unable to participate in this case because they had not
submitted timely claims. In re Black Farmers
Discrimination Litig., 856 F.Supp.2d 1, 11-12 (D.D.C.
2011). On May 13, 2011, after "extensive negotiations,
" the Court preliminarily approved a class-wide
Settlement Agreement between those plaintiffs and the USDA,
Id. at 14, 22-23, which led to the implementation of
another non-judicial claims resolution process with a
potential total payout of more than $1 billion in relief.
Id. at 22-23 (explaining the claims resolution
process of "expedited" Track A versus "actual
damages" Track B); see also Claims Resolution
Act of 2010, Pub. L. 111-291 § 201(b), 124 Stat. 3064
(2010) (appropriating funds for the claims resolution
process). In fact, the claims process in that case is now
completed, and over $1 billion have been paid out to
November 2, 2015, the Court entered a Wind-down Stipulation
and Order in this case, which "which "execute[d] an
orderly wind-down of all obligations imposed on the parties
by the Consent Decree" in this action, and "forever
discharged and released" Class Counsel, the Neutrals,
and Defendant from "all duties under or related to the
Consent Decree." Dkt. 2008 at 3, 7. Subsequent to the
entry of the Wind-down Stipulation and Order, the Court
"retain[s] jurisdiction solely to enforce the terms of
this Wind-down Stipulation and Order, " as well as for
certain other limited aspects of the Consent Decree that are
not relevant to the pro se motions under consideration here.
Id. at 7.
Court will discuss the background of each of the four sets of
pro se parties separately and separately analyze the merits
of their respective motions and objection.
April 15, 1999 - one day after the Court entered the Consent
Decree - a letter to the Court from Eddie and Dorothy Wise
was entered on the public docket in this case. Wises'
Letter [Dkt. 177]. In it the Wises wrote that "the
Consent Decree is very unfair" and asked to "go to
trial or declare the Consent Decree null and void."
Id. at 1. If this letter was intended to be a formal
opt out, as other courts have concluded it was, see
infra at 6, it was timely filed. See supra
at 3-4. The docket in this case indicates that the Wises did
not participate further in this litigation until October 9,
2015, when they filed the instant motions to compel and for
contempt, Dkts. 2002 and 2003.
interim, the Wises filed a class action suit against the
USDA, with the assistance of counsel, in the United States
District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina,
alleging identical discrimination claims to those contained
in the complaint in this case. Wise v. Vilsack, 496
F.App'x 283, 284 (4th Cir. 2012) (per curiam). In that
case, the Wises explained to the district court that they
"chose to opt out of the Pigford v. Veneman
class action lawsuit and become lead plaintiffs in a new
class action lawsuit." Dkt. 2010-1 at 4; see also
United States v. Wise, No. 14-0844, 2015 WL 5918027, at
*4 (E.D. N.C. Oct. 9, 2015) ("The evidence of record
conclusively establishes the fact that [the Wises] opted out
of the Pigford settlement."),
reconsideration denied. No. 14-0844, 2015 WL 7302245
(E.D. N.C. Nov. 18, 2015), affd, 639 F.App'x 193 (4th
Cir. 2016), and affd, 639 F.App'x 193 (4th Cir. 2016);
Wise v. Glickman, 257 F.Supp.2d 123, 129 (D.D.C.
2003) ("Eddie Wise[ and] Dorothy Monroe-Wise . . . opted
out of the Pigford class."). The Eastern
District of North Carolina ultimately dismissed the
Wises' putative class action in 2011 under Rule 12(b)(6)
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to plead
any facts comparing their treatment to the treatment of
non-minority farmers. Wise v. Vilsack. No. 10-0197,
2011 WL 381765, at *4 (E.D. N.C. Feb. 2, 2011), affd sub
nom. 496 F.App'x 283.
November 2014, the USDA brought a foreclosure proceeding
against the Wises in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern
District of North Carolina in order to collect on defaulted
USDA loans and, in October 2015, the court granted summary
judgment in favor of USDA. United States v. Wise,
2015 WL 5918027, at *6; see also United States v.
Wise, No. 14-0844, 2016 WL 755627 (E.D. N.C. Feb. 25,
2016) (denying stay), reconsideration denied. No.
14-0844, 2016 WL 1448641 (E.D. N.C. Apr. 12, 2016). "On
April 4, 2016, the United States Marshal for the Eastern
District of North Carolina sold at public auction