United States District Court, District of Columbia
S. CHUTKAN, United States District Judge
case brought under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
42 U.S.C. § 2000d, and the Fifth Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution, Plaintiffs allege that they have been
discriminated against by Defendants U.S. Department of
Agriculture (“USDA”) and Epiq Class Action &
Claims Solutions, Inc. in the denial of their administrative
discrimination claims. Before the court are Defendants'
motions to dismiss. (ECF Nos. 5, 18). For the reasons stated
below, both motions are GRANTED.
in this case are the estates of three Black farmers who seek
compensation for past discrimination by the USDA, as well as
the Black Farmers & Agriculturalists Association, Inc.
(“BFAA”), an organization which advocates for
redress of the USDA's past discrimination. (Compl. ¶
1). This case relates to litigation that has been ongoing in
some form for over twenty years. Following decades of
discrimination by the USDA against Black farmers in the
denial, delay, or frustration of their applications for farm
loans or other benefit programs, the federal government
entered into a class settlement consent decree. See
Pigford v. Glickman (“Pigford
I”), 185 F.R.D. 82 (D.D.C. 1999). Following
this settlement, the USDA awarded over one billion dollars in
compensation and relief to approximately 16, 000 successful
claimants. In re Black Farmers Discrim. Litig.
(“Pigford II”), 856 F.Supp.2d 1, 10-11
(D.D.C. 2011). Over 60, 000 additional claimants sought
compensation under the Pigford I consent decree but
were denied because their claims were untimely. Id.
at 11. After conducting hearings into the Pigford I
settlement and claims process, Congress “resurrected
the claims of those who had unsuccessfully petitioned the
Arbitrator for permission to submit late claim
packages” by passing the Food, Conservation, and Energy
Act of 2008 (“2008 Farm Bill”). Id.
Approximately 40, 000 claimants filed complaints in this
court following the 2008 Farm Bill, and their claims were
consolidated into the Pigford II litigation.
Id. at 13. In 2011, the court in that case approved
an additional settlement consent decree, with a potential
total payout of an additional one billion dollars. See
White v. Vilsack, 80 F.Supp.3d 123, 125 (D.D.C. 2015)
(recounting Pigford history). Unlike in Pigford
I, the class members in Pigford II were not
permitted to opt out, and the settlement terms were thus
binding on all class members. See Id. at 126.
the same time period, the USDA was engaged in class action
litigation with other plaintiffs who similarly alleged
discrimination by the agency. Two lawsuits on behalf of
Hispanic farmers and female farmers were brought in 2000, but
the courts denied class certification in both cases. See
Garcia v. Johanns, 444 F.3d 625 (D.C. Cir. 2006)
(affirming denials). Following these denials of class
certification, the USDA voluntarily created an alternative
dispute resolution (“ADR”) administrative claims
process for Hispanic and female farmers to resolve their
discrimination claims against the USDA. See Love v.
Vilsack, 304 F.R.D. 85, 87 (D.D.C. 2014) (describing
administrative process established by the USDA); Garcia
v. Vilsack, 304 F.R.D. 77, 79 (D.D.C. 2014) (same).
Participation in this administrative claims process was
conditioned on dismissal of the farmer's discrimination
claims against the USDA. Defendant Epiq was selected to be
the claims administrator. (Compl. ¶¶ 4-6).
in this case-the estates of Earnest Boyland, David Shelton,
and Lee Sylvester Caldwell-allege that they faced
discrimination by the USDA during the relevant time period
underlying the Pigford I litigation but failed to
submit claims under either the Pigford I or
Pigford II consent decrees. (Compl. ¶¶ 66,
68 (Boyland), 82 (Shelton), 89 (Caldwell)). Instead, in March
2013 Plaintiffs attempted to file claims under the ADR
process established to resolve claims brought by Hispanic and
female farmers, and their claims were denied because the
claimants identified as Black male farmers, not Hispanic or
female. (Id. ¶¶ 71-73 (Boyland), 78-79
(Shelton), 85-86 (Caldwell)). Plaintiffs, including BFAA, on
behalf of themselves and all similarly situated individuals,
brought this litigation alleging violations of their Fifth
Amendment rights to due process and equal protection, as well
as violations of Title VI. BFAA also attempted to intervene
in the Love and Garcia cases to bring
similar constitutional claims, but the court denied
intervention. See Love, 304 F.R.D. at 89-92;
Garcia, 304 F.R.D. at 81-85.
motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to
state a claim tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint.
Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir.
2002). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint
must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to
‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009). A claim is plausible when it alleges sufficient
facts to permit the court to “draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged.” Id. Thus, although a plaintiff may
survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion even where “recovery is
very remote and unlikely, ” the facts alleged in the
complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief
above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007) (internal quotation
marks omitted). Evaluating a 12(b)(6) motion is a
“context-specific task that requires the reviewing
court to draw on its judicial experience and common
sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.
Title VI Claims
Counts I through IV, Plaintiffs allege that Epiq's
denials of their claims violated Title VI because its
determinations that they were ineligible for compensation
were impermissibly based on their race. (Compl. ¶¶
48-91). Under Title VI, “[n]o person in the United
States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national
origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the
benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any
program or activity receiving Federal financial
assistance.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000d. Epiq argues that
Plaintiffs' Title VI claims should be dismissed because
(1) Title VI does not apply to the USDA's administrative
claims process at issue here and (2) a Title VI claim cannot
be brought against Epiq because it does not receive federal
financial assistance. The court agrees.
VI defines “program or activity” as the
operations of a state or local government, a higher education
institution, a local educational agency or school system, or
corporations and other private entities “principally
engaged in the business of providing education, health care,
housing, social services, or parks and recreation.” 42
U.S.C. § 2000d-4a(1)-(4). This statutory definition
excludes federal agencies, and therefore it is
well-recognized that Title VI does not reach “the
operations of the federal government and its agencies.”
DynaLantic Corp. v. U.S. Dep't of Defense, 885
F.Supp.2d 237, 291 (D.D.C. 2012); see also Wise v.
Glickman, 257 F.Supp.2d 123, 132 (D.D.C. 2003);
Williams v. Glickman, 936 F.Supp. 1, 5 (D.D.C.
1996). In the court's view, USDA's voluntary ADR
process for resolving discrimination claims brought by
Hispanic or female farmers against USDA is not a
“program or activity” under the statutory
definition because it does not involve any of the listed
entities and therefore falls outside the scope of Title
VI's coverage. While USDA has contracted with Epiq - a
private corporation - to process individuals' claims,
Plaintiffs have not alleged any facts that Epiq is
“principally engaged in the business of providing
education, health care, housing, social services, or parks
and recreation” in order to fall within the statutory
definition for a covered “program or activity”
under Title VI.
Epiq were covered by the statutory definition, Plaintiffs
must further allege that Epiq receives federal financial
assistance to carry out its program or activity. 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000d. While the term “financial
assistance” is not defined by the statute, under
USDA's Title VI regulations, promulgated pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 2000d-1, “financial assistance” is
(1) grants and loans of Federal funds, (2) the grant or
donation of Federal property and interests in property, (3)
the detail of Federal personnel, (4) the sale and lease of,
and the permission to use (on other than a casual or
transient basis), Federal property or any interest in such
property or the furnishing of services without consideration
or at a nominal consideration, or at a consideration which is
reduced for the purpose of assisting the recipient, or in
recognition of the public interest to be served by such sale,
lease or furnishing of services ...