A federal court has reportedly approved a $760 million government settlement with Native American farmers and ranchers who claimed that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) discriminated against them by denying them equal access to credit through the agency’s Farm Loan Program. Keepseagle v. Vilsack, No. 99-03119 (D.D.C., settlement approved April 28, 2011). A final dispute over attorney’s fees was resolve in class counsel’s favor; they will receive 8 percent of the settlement, or $60.8 million. The Department of Justice apparently urged the court to halve that amount.

According to a news source, the settlement funds do not require legislative
action to be awarded; farmers must file their claims by December 2011.
President Barack Obama (D) said, “Today’s approval of the settlement will
help strengthen our nation to nation relationship with Indian Country and
reinforce the idea that all citizens have a right to be treated fairly by their
government.” Under the settlement, some class members will receive $50,000
while others, with evidence of economic loss, can recover up to $250,000. The
settlement also includes $80 million in farm-debt forgiveness.

The settlement also apparently requires that USDA adopt initiatives to alleviate racism in rural farm loan offices. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack reportedly said in this regard, “We are committed to changing the culture that made this settlement necessary, and we believe we are well on the way to doing just that.” See The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times, April 28, 2011; The Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press, April 29, 2011.

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For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.

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