Law | Opinion

Marshall Matz: Fight for $380M in Keepseagle funds continues






Indian farmers and ranchers held a protest outside the federal courthouse last December in Washington, D.C. Photo from Association of American Indian Farmers / Facebook

Attorney Marshall Matz discusses the fight over $380 million in funds left from the Keepseagle settlement:
Do you remember the class action litigation Keepseagle v. USDA claiming discrimination against Indian farmers and ranchers? The court approved a settlement of the case in 2011 so why was there yet another court hearing on Monday, June 29th in front of Federal District Judge Emmet Sullivan? Therein lies an interesting story…..

The original settlement was for $680 million to be shared by Native American farmers and ranchers who had faced discrimination over the years by USDA. Some 3,601 Indian farmers documented discrimination and the vast majority (3,587) received a payment of $50,000 while 14 were eligible for payments up to $250,000. It turns out, however, that the Government and the attorneys at the time guessed wrong on how many individuals would file successful claims so it has left some $380 million in the pot.

The Class Counsel who has represented the class of those harmed is now at odds with Mr. and Mrs. Keepseagle and many in the class on how to best use the remaining $380 million. When all the parties to the lawsuit estimated that the remaining funds after individual payments were made would be modest, they all agreed to distribute the unclaimed funds via a “cy pres” disbursement. Specifically, the terms of the settlement agreement provided that the remaining funds would be distributed to charitable organizations of the Class Counsel's choosing that support Native American farmers and ranchers. But given the size of the miscalculation, the Keepseagles and many members of the class are saying: “wait a minute,” the facts have changed and so has our opinion.

At the hearing, Mrs. Keepseagle and a large group of the successful claimants, calling themselves the Great Plains Claimants, asked Judge Sullivan to amend the settlement agreement and approve a supplemental distribution of funds to those harmed (assuming they can document the damages). Judge Sullivan allowed any class member who wished to address the Court to do so and the hearing lasted from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Attorneys for the Department of Justice argued that the settlement agreement should not be modified to allow for a supplemental distribution.

Get the Story:
Marshall Matz: Keepseagle v. USDA :The Case Continues (The Agri-Pulse 6/30)

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