Black Farmer Cases
Michael J. Majoros, Jr. and Charles W. King are proud to have provided assistance to several black farmers and their families in support of their claims that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's ("USDA") discriminatory actions caused them severe economic damages.
Originally, these farmers were members of a class action suit against the USDA (Pigford v. Glickman) in which a settlement was reached. The U.S. District Court's decision to certify the class pursuant to Rule 23(b)(3) was made largely to allow class members to "opt out" of the class if they chose to pursue their remedies individually before the USDA - or by separate court action.
Snavely King provided assistance to fifteen of these farmers who chose to "opt-out". Given the extraordinary nature of their particular circumstance and evidence, and upon attorney's advice, Snavely King's clients chose to pursue 'other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy" as contemplated in the settlement agreement.
Mr. King and Mr. Majoros, assisted by Snavely King Staff members, reviewed the extensive files pertaining to each of these farmers. After reviewing these files and conducting substantial background research, Mr. King and Mr. Majoros quantified in detail the economic damages resulting from the USDA's discrimination. These estimates were drawn from an economic model developed by Mr. Majoros and Mr. King to quantify the damages suffered by these farmers.
These quantifications were included in reports which also contained detailed descriptions of the treatment of these farmers at the hands of local supervisors, farm committees, and the USDA itself. Apparently, these reports still languish somewhere in the USDA.
Due to their confidential nature, Snavely King's reports are not reproduced here. Instead, we provide the following excerpts from the US District Court's April 14, 1999 Opinion in order to give a sense of the background of the complaints and the type of treatment encountered by these farmers. (US District Court for the District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 97-1978 (PLF)).
The District Court's analysis of the black farmers' claims resulted in scathing conclusions regarding the USDA's practices in dealing with these people. The opinion identifies and discusses a steady decline in Africa-American farmers which varies inversely with the growth of the USDA's farm support programs.
While the loan and subsidy programs are federally funded, at the state level these programs are run autonomously by county commissioners and their offices. The Opinion provides specific examples of discriminatory acts by USDA county offices and commissioners.
For example, in several southeastern states, it took three times as long on average to process the application of an African-American farmer than it did to process the application of a white farmer. In 1994, the entire county of Green County, Alabama where Mr. George Hall farmed was declared eligible for emergency disaster payments on 1994 crop loses. Every single application for disaster payments was approved by the Greene County Committee except for Mr. Hall's.
James Beverly of Nottaway County, Virginia was a successful farmer before going to the Farmers Home Administration ("FmHA"). To build on his success, Mr. Beverly in 1981 began working with his local FmHA office to expand and modernize his swine herd operations. The plan, formulated with input from FmHA, called for loans to purchase breeding stock and equipment as well as farrowing houses necessary for breeding operations. Mr. Beverly was approved for the loans for equipment and breeding stock and assured that he would be later approved for the loans necessary for farrowing houses. However, after buying the equipment and stock, Mr. Beverly, FmHA denied the loan for farrrowing houses, rendering the livestock and equipment useless. Mr. Beverly ended up having to sell his entire property to settle his debt to the FmHA.
These examples are similar to the stories contained in Snavely King's reports for our fifteen clients, and the resulting economic damages were estimated to be millions of dollars. We are proud to have provided the assistance, but we are not sanguine that the USDA has or will live up to its responsibilities.