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Image of Indian Farmers and Ranchers Protesting USDA
Indian Farmers and Ranchers Protesting USDA; Image Courtesy of Association of American Indian Farmers, https://www.facebook.com/AmericanIndianFarmers

Years ago, a group of Native American farmers and ranchers filed a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) “over claims that the USDA discriminated against them in farm loans and loan servicing from 1981 through 1999.” While the particular lawsuit was settled for $760 million, $380 has gone unclaimed. Now, after all this time, an appeals court has finally approved a settlement on how to deal with the $380 million in unclaimed funds.

Under the original settlement, $680 million was to be paid out in damages and an $80 million fund to forgive farm debts was established. It “set up two payment tracks for Native Americans who say they were denied USDA loans and services due to their race.” Additionally, the original settlement that was agreed to back in 2010 also “required that any unclaimed funds be paid to not-for-profit groups other than law firms and legal services providers who provide assistance to Native American farmers.” However, because the unclaimed funds totaled such a large amount, all of the involved groups decided to “renegotiate the settlement.” So that’s what happened.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit “agreed with a district court ruling which provides for additional payments to each prevailing claimant, with the balance of the funds to be distributed to not-for-profit organizations serving Native American farmers and ranchers.

Image of the USDA Logo
USDA Logo; Image Courtesy of Agricultural Wire, http://agriculturewire.com/

However, that agreement got some pushback from two of the claimants, Keith Mandan and Donivon Craig Tingle, who appealed on claims that the “settlement was unreasonable, that it can’t be approved without their consent, that giving the proceeds to the not-for-profit organizations is unconstitutional, and that attorneys for the class had breached their fiduciary responsibilities.” In fact, they argued that all of the unclaimed $380 million should be “distributed to the successful claimants.

But Circuit Judges Robert Wilkins and Harry Edwards decided to uphold the District Court’s ruling after determining that Mandan and Tingle’s claims were “without merit or should have been raised at an earlier proceeding.”

Sources:

Appeals court approves settlement in Native American farmer lawsuit

U.S. settles Native American farmers’ lawsuit for $760M

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