United States District Court, District of Columbia
BERNICE C. ATCHISON, Plaintiff,
U.S. DISTRICT COURTS, et al., Defendants. Re Document no. 34
RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge
Plaintiff's Motion to Compel, Construed, In Part, As a
Motion for Reconsideration
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.
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)).
the Court dismissed her Complaint, Ms. Atchison filed a
motion to compel the Chief Judge of this
District 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. 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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)