Indian farmers and
ranchers held a protest outside the federal courthouse in
Washington, D.C., last December. Photo from Association of
American Indian Farmers / Facebook
A federal judge said he can't reopen the Keepseagle settlement even though Indian farmers and ranchers received only half of $680 million promised to them.
The Obama administration reached the settlement in October 2010 to address discrimination at the Department of Agriculture. But in what Judge Emmet Sullivan described as a "monumental" failure, only about 3,600 Indian farmers and ranchers received payments.
"This case was not an abstract legal dispute," Sullivan observed in a 70-page decision issued on Friday. "It was a major class-action seeking to remedy what many felt was the latest chapter in the federal government’s sordid history of mistreating Native Americans."
Despite the significance of the settlement, Sullivan said he was bound a provision that requires leftover money to be distributed to groups that assist farmers and ranchers in Indian Country. He denied a motion to authorize another round of payments, as requested by lead plaintiff Marilyn Keepsagle and her husband.
The judge also denied a motion create a new trust fund to distribute the $380 million in cy pres funds, a request of attorneys who represented the plaintiffs and the Department of Justice.
Sullivan, who heard directly from Indian ranchers and farmers at an all-day hearing in Washington, D.C., on June 29, acknowledged that his decision satisfies no one.
"Contrary to the
Keepseagles’s wishes, the funds would remain entirely for
charitable distribution," Sullivan wrote. "Contrary to the goals of class counsel and the government, that charitable distribution would be
pursuant to the arguably inefficient procedures that were
designed to handle a much smaller amount of money."
But while Sullivan said it was "unclear" why the claims process failed, he
wondered why the federal government won't support a reopening of the process.
"Over half of the
class’s damages would be distributed to third parties, despite
the relative ease with which class members could be identified,
the claims process reopened, and previously successful claimants
permitted to prove that they suffered damages in excess of the
compensation they have obtained," Sullivan wrote.
Reopening the process would require additional talks, Sullivan said.
The Keepseagles are open to negotiations, their attorney told The National Law Journal.
The attorneys who handled the case on behalf of the plaintiffs are also open to talks, the Journal reported. The Department of Justice declined to comment.
Get the Story:
Judge Laments 'Monumental' Failure After $380M Goes Unspent in Class Action
The National Law Journal 7/24)
District Court Decision:
Keepseagle v. Vilsack (July 24, 2015)
Release | Settlement
Form A | Notice Form
Award | Loan Debt
Relief | Native American
Farmers and Ranchers Council | Named
Plaintiffs | President
Obama Statement | USDA
Marshall Matz: Fight for
$380M in Keepseagle funds continues (07/01)
Indian farmers rally over $380M in unspent
Keepseagle funds (6/29)
Indian farmers protest
foundation with $380M Keepseagle funds (12/04)
Keepseagle plaintiffs oppose
use of $380M to create foundation (09/30)
Native Sun News: Indian
farmers question Keepseagle attorneys (08/22)
Details announced for
meetings about $380M Keepseagle fund (07/17)
Keepseagle attorneys schedule meetings to discuss
$380M fund (7/8)
USDA questions plan to create
$380M Keepseagle foundation (09/18)
Opinion: Keepseagle foundation boosts farmers and
Choctaw Nation seeks
$58.5M from Keepseagle for foundation (9/6)
Keepseagle foundation would share $380M with Indian
Magazine: Farmers hope for
new era with USDA settlement (8/27)
Most of Indian farmer
discrimination settlement goes unspent (04/26)