Case Studies

Class of 35,000+ Black Farmers

Partners Laurel Pyke Malson and
Florence Prioleau.
Former partner Andrew Marks.
Associate Michael Lieberman.

35,000+ Black Farmers needed help resolving decades of discrimination; We dug right in

Almost 10 years after the historic Pigford settlement, the largest civil rights settlement in U.S. history, more than 70,000 black farmers from across the country who had sought to participate in that settlement were excluded because their requests were filed after the deadline. By 2008, Congress had addressed the issue by appropriating limited funds ($100 Million) to pay the claims of eligible farmers. Our task was to advance these claims within the structural and fiscal limitations imposed by Congress, and to do so with fairness, integrity and efficiency. Shortly after the 2008 legislation, 23 complaints had been filed on behalf of approximately 40,000 plaintiffs.

We knew our clients would not benefit from individual adjudications of their claims in court, so we negotiated a class settlement with the USDA. Because there was no provision in the initial appropriation to pay for a non-judicial claims process and eligible farmers would receive a substantially lower recovery than they would have received in the Pigford settlement, we also advocated for additional funding from Congress.

The class was certified and the settlement approved, and Congress appropriated an additional $1.25 billion in funding. As a result, approximately 18,000 black farmers received a check in remedy for the discrimination they suffered.

In the words of President Obama, this settlement was "another important step forward in addressing an unfortunate chapter in USDA's civil rights history. This agreement will provide overdue relief and justice to African American farmers, and bring us closer to the ideals of freedom and equality that this country was founded on."

The Court lauded Crowell & Moring's role in bringing about this result: "Without the services of class counsel, . . . there would be no recovery for most class members." Judge Paul L. Friedman continued, "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."