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Atchison v. U.S. District Courts

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 24, 2017

BERNICE C. ATCHISON, Plaintiff,
v.
U.S. DISTRICT COURTS, et al., Defendants. Re Document no. 34

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge

         Denying Plaintiff's Motion to Compel, Construed, In Part, As a Motion for Reconsideration

         I. INTRODUCTION

         In a series of lawsuits culminating in In re Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation (also referred to as Pigford II), thousands of African-American farmers alleged racial discrimination by the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) in the application of its credit and benefits programs. 856 F.Supp.2d 1, 7-8 (D.D.C. 2011). Following lengthy litigation and congressional intervention, the parties reached a settlement that created an administrative claims process for African-American farmers seeking compensation for past discrimination by the USDA. Id. at 22-23. Requests brought under that administrative process are known as Pigford II claims. Id. at 13-14.

         Plaintiff Bernice C. Atchison, proceeding pro se, brought this action seeking damages from various Defendants associated with that litigation and her Pigford II claim. See generally Compl., ECF No. 1. On May 27, 2016, this Court dismissed Ms. Atchison's Complaint for a number of reasons. See generally Atchison v. U.S. Dist. Courts, 190 F.Supp.3d 78 (D.D.C. 2016), ECF No. 32. Among other things, the Court found that “determinations pursuant to the claims process ‘are final and are not reviewable by . . . the Court, or any other body, judicial or otherwise.'” Id. at 94 (alteration in original) (quoting In re Black Farmers Discrimination Litig., 29 F.Supp.3d 1, 2 (D.D.C. 2014)).

         After the Court dismissed her Complaint, Ms. Atchison filed a motion to compel the Chief Judge of this District[1] to order the USDA and Secretary Tom Vilsack to conduct an administrative hearing on Ms. Atchison's Pigford II claim. See Pl.'s Mot. Compel at 1, ECF No. 34. Ms. Atchison also sent a separate letter to the Court asking for an administrative hearing and arguing that a denial of her request would be contrary to federal law, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the United States Constitution.[2] See Pl.'s Letter at 1, ECF. No. 33. Parts of Ms. Atchison's motion request relief previously considered and rejected by the Court, and the Court will construe those arguments as a motion for reconsideration. For the reasons explained below, the Court will deny Ms. Atchison's motion.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         This Court previously summarized the history of the litigation African-American farmers brought against USDA. See Atchison, 190 F.Supp.3d at 84-85. To clarify the issues raised in Ms. Atchison's currently pending motion, the Court will briefly restate the historical context of the extended litigation between African-American farmers and USDA. Next, the Court will turn to the procedural history of this case and the arguments raised in Ms. Atchison's motion.

         A. Historical Background

         On April 14, 1999, a court in this District approved a consent decree that settled a class-action lawsuit brought by African-American farmers alleging racial discrimination by USDA in the application of its credit and benefits programs. See generally Pigford v. Glickman (Pigford I), 185 F.R.D. 82 (D.D.C. 1999), aff'd, 206 F.3d 1212 (D.C. Cir. 2000). The Pigford I consent decree created a “dispute resolution mechanism” that allowed class members to file administrative claims seeking compensation for past discrimination by USDA. Id. at 95. Pigford I set a time limit for farmers to file their claims, but many farmers attempted to file after the deadline had passed. In re Black Farmers Discrimination Litig., 856 F.Supp.2d 1, 11 (D.D.C. 2011).

         Congress provided a remedy to farmers with time-barred claims through a provision of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, also known as the 2008 Farm Bill. Id. That provision states: “[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)). Through twenty-three complaints filed in this District, roughly 40, 000 individuals brought suit under that provision, and those cases became known as Pigford II actions. See Id. at 13. Recognizing the case management challenges posed by the Pigford II cases, the court consolidated all twenty-three actions into one miscellaneous case, In re Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation, No. 08-mc-0511 (PLF). See id.

         The Pigford II parties negotiated a settlement (the “Settlement Agreement”) that was ultimately approved by the court on October 27, 2011 following a fairness hearing and the consideration of extensive written submissions by interested parties. See Id. at 6-7. The Pigford II Settlement Agreement created a two-track system for resolving claims, whereby a claimant could choose either Track A or Track B. Id. at 22. Under Track A, any potential monetary award was limited to $50, 000, but the claimant faced the relatively low burden of proving her claim by “substantial evidence, ” while under Track B, a claimant could receive a maximum of $250, 000, but she was required to prove her claim by the higher standard of the preponderance of the evidence. Id. at 22-23.

         Both Track A and Track B claims were evaluated by neutral third parties, the “Track A Neutral” or the “Track B Neutral, ” and those determinations were “final and not subject to appeal.” Id. at 23. The court explicitly considered a mechanism for appealing adverse decisions and found that “[g]iven the costs and benefits of an appeal process . . . the decision . . . not to offer such a process under the settlement agreement does not make the agreement or the process it established unfair or unreasonable.” Id. at 36. The D.C. Circuit dismissed consolidated appeals challenging the court's approval of the settlement. See Latham v. Vilsack, Nos. 11-5326, 11-5334, 12-5019, 2012 WL 10236550, at *1 (D.C. Cir. July 25, 2012) (per curiam).

         B. ...


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