$1.25 Billion Settlement for Black Farmers1

In one of our proudest moments, the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin led one of the largest civil rights cases in the country’s history. In 2010, the case culminated in a $1.25 billion settlement1 designed to give Black farmers long-awaited compensation after years of egregious discrimination by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The years of hard work, massive logistical challenges and hard-won experience from that case altered our DNA and have made us more capable of handling any challenge we may face. It took all we had to offer, but it was well worth it to find some measure of justice for people who had so much taken from them.

This is that story.

Black Farmers Claim Discrimination

In 1997, a Black farmer in North Carolina named Timothy Pigford filed a class action discrimination lawsuit against the federal government alleging a pattern of racism that kept Black farmers out of USDA loan and assistance programs.

The discrimination against Black farmers cited in the lawsuit (commonly known as Pigford I) included:

  • Denying Black farmers’ loan requests
  • Delaying Black farmers’ loan requests until the end of planting season
  • Denying crop disaster payments to Black farmers
Between 1910 and 1997, Black farmers lost around 90% of the land they owned.

The fact that USDA practices helped bring about this steep decline is, even in the department’s own words, “well documented.”

In 1999, the government awarded the Black farmers $1 billion, but the victory was incomplete. Due to mismanagement and poor communication, an additional 70,000+ Black farmers were not notified in a timely manner of the process for joining the class action suit, and their late claims were denied. An additional $100 million was set aside for the farmers in a 2008 farm bill, but it was evident that this amount was insufficient to cover the valid claims of many more Black farmers against the USDA.
John Boyd, Jr., speaking in front of the Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC at a Black Farmers rally.

A Second Chance for Black Farmers

A second class action suit (In re Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation, but also commonly referred to as Pigford II) was started to help the Black farmers who were left out of the first claims process. The Law Offices of James Scott Farrin was brought in to try to ensure the Black farmers got the justice they deserved.  We became the lead driver for a team of 25+ firms on the case, and in February of 2010, the Department of Justice and USDA approved a settlement of $1.25 billion for the Black farmers. However, there was a caveat: we also had to convince Congress to approve the $1.15 billion in funds above and beyond the $100 million from the 2008 farm bill.

John Boyd, Jr., standing next to former Congressman Artur Davis, delivering a speech at a rally for Black farmers in Alabama.

The Fight for Funding

There was no guarantee that the government would fund the second settlement, but we kept working towards this goal – even after seven unsuccessful attempts were made to obtain congressional approval of the needed funds. Undeterred, our teams continued organizing demonstrations and rallies with thousands of Black farmers across the U.S. to motivate Congress and the White House to appropriate the funds. We worked alongside passionate activists, such as John Boyd, Jr., a Black Virginia farmer and founder of the National Black Farmers Association, who fought relentlessly to be heard. Our firm led and financed the majority of these efforts showing the government that we meant business in helping the farmers win.

Hard Work Pays Off As Funding Is Approved

After months of negotiating, our persistence paid off, and Congress agreed to do the right thing and fund the settlement. In November of 2010, the Senate passed an act to provide $1.15 billion in funding by unanimous consent. These funds combined with the $100 million made available in a 2008 farm bill resulted in a $1.25 billion settlement1 for the Black farmers, making it one of the largest civil rights victories in the country.
Black farmers rallying on the steps of a building in Montgomery, AL.

Claims Submissions Success Story

With the settlement funded, our commitment for excellent client management using innovation and technology was put to the test. As seen with the claims process in the first class action suit, there were many challenges to overcome. Our goal was to help tens of thousands of victimized Black farmers across the U.S. submit their claims in the allotted 180 day timeframe. We, and our partner law firms, succeeded by:

  • Analyzing data to determine locations that would offer almost everyone a meeting within an hour’s drive
  • Organizing nearly 400 meetings with potential claimants across 23 states and Washington, D.C.
  • Contracting with and training teams of attorneys and paralegals across the nation
  • Meeting with nearly 22,000 Black farmers in person to assist them in submitting their claims
  • Creating and managing a phone bank for those farmers who could not attend one of the meetings

United States District Judge Paul L. Friedman recognized these efforts and stated in his opinion on the case, “Class counsel have undertaken the immense challenge presented by this action with the utmost professionalism and integrity, exhibiting skill, diligence, and efficiency in all aspects of their duties.”

We were determined to ensure that these farmers were not let down again, and we gave them the chance to finally have their claims heard and answered.

“We have good, talented people; advanced systems to handle large, complex cases; and a history of meeting and exceeding the challenges set in front of us. Pigford II demonstrated our will to overcome obstacles and fight for our clients.”

James Scott Farrin, President and CEO
of the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin

Put the James Scott Farrin Advantage to Work for You

We are always looking for new, innovative ways to overcome tough issues. After tackling the organizational and technological challenges of managing the tens of thousands of Pigford II claims, we built a case management system that helps our lawyers serve each client more efficiently allowing us to try to achieve faster results. We aim to learn and evolve with each case, and we will put our experience to work for you.