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With Congress-backed approval and a preliminary acceptance by a federal judge, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has begun notifying potential class members of their rights under the $1.25 billion black farmer settlement agreement arranged last year.
If approved by the judge in September 2011, class members, their heirs, or legal representatives will likely have until February 28, 2012 to file claims for up to $50,000 each, and may also be able to take part in the USDA's loan forgiveness program.
This particular black farmer settlement stems from a series of class action lawsuits, Pigford and Pigford II, that alleged that the USDA systematically discriminated against African-Americans in the provision of farm loans, reports Reuters.
A large chunk of black farmers were not included in the original 1999 Pigford settlement, but were able to strike a deal via the litigation of Pigford II in early 2010. This settlement significantly widens the net of who can make a claim against the USDA.
As with all class action lawsuits, prior to the finalization of a settlement agreement, the parties must make every effort to notify potential class members so that they have the ability to file claims or to formally object to the settlement.
By failing to object, a class member accepts the settlement as is and waives his right to file another lawsuit.
Between 20,000 and 40,000 class members are expected to take part in the black farmers settlement, and because litigation is long and costly, it's unlikely that any will object.