On December 11, 2012, the court granted the government’s motion to dismiss the Cantu case. Unless there is a successful appeal, this means that the Cantu case is over and has been decided in the government’s favor. The court dismissed the case on the grounds that the plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge any unequal treatment by the government. The court found a lack of standing because it believed that it did not have the authority to make the government settle the discrimination claims, which is what the judge thought the case was trying to do. The court raised this issue itself – it was not one of the government’s arguments in its motion to dismiss. We are considering whether there are grounds to appeal the court’s decision.
On November 28, 2012, the Court issued an order putting on hold further briefing on the women farmers’ motion for summary judgment, and in the course of doing so, promised to “endeavor to issue its ruling on the defendant’s motion to dismiss on an expedited basis.” It is anticipated that the Court will rule on both the women and Hispanic farmers’ respective motions to dismiss at the same time.
There are two cases in court that may affect the discrimination claims that you have against the United States: Cantu and Garcia. In both of these cases, there are a few individuals who are named parties to the case. These individuals and their lawyers are trying to open up the cases to include any Hispanic farmers and ranchers who believe they were been discriminated against by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The judges assigned to these cases have not agreed to let others join the cases yet, however.
No one knows what will happen with these cases. That is why it is very important that you understand what you have to do to protect yourself.
The new lawyers in the cases (the “Lawyers”), which include Miller & Chevalier Chartered and Winston & Strawn LLP, currently represent only some of the individual plaintiffs who are “named” in the Garcia and Cantu cases (“Represented Individuals”).
A Represented Individual is someone who received a letter from Robert Ruyak dated June 22, 2012, and who signed and returned that letter. If you are not a Represented Individual, these Lawyers do not currently represent you. That means that you may not have a lawyer who is working for you. In order to protect yourself, you may need to take some actions, including having your documents returned to you and/or hiring a lawyer to represent you.
We understand there are hundreds of farmers who retained Howrey LLP to represent them or who sent Howrey documentation they had to support their claim of discrimination by the USDA. As you may know, Howrey LLP is now bankrupt and has gone out of business. There is a “trustee” who has been appointed by the bankruptcy court to be responsible for dealing with Howrey’s affairs, including determining what to do with Howrey’s files.
The trustee has assured us that any files sent to Howrey by Hispanic farmers have been preserved and are being kept by the trustee. If you are one of the Represented Individuals, we are making arrangement to have your files sent to Miller & Chevalier. If you are not one of the Represented Individuals, your files will remain with Howrey’s trustee unless you request that they be returned.
As you may know, the Lawyers are currently working to try to obtain a better settlement than the one the government offered (the current “Framework”). If this is successful, it might be helpful to many Hispanic farmers. However, the Lawyers represent only the Represented Individuals. We do not represent other individual farmers in connection with their claims of discrimination, and cannot provide any legal advice to you.
Since the government’s Framework was rolled out on September 24, 2012, a farmer has until March 25, 2013, to make a claim under the Framework, if you chose to file a claim.
If you are not a Represented Individual, we cannot give you advice about whether to file a claim under the Framework. The only advice we can give you is that you might wish to call or write to the Howrey trustee to get back the papers you gave the Howrey firm. You may need to review these in order for you to decide whether to participate in the Framework or to pursue a lawsuit. In making such a decision we also suggest that you consult with a lawyer who can help you.
If you want to get your records back from Howrey, you should complete the attached form and send it to:
Attn: Final Records Request
P.O. Box 97351
Washington, DC 20090
In January 1997, in response to overwhelming criticism from socially disadvantaged and minority farmers regarding their treatment by the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”), a Civil Rights Action Team established by then Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman conducted 12 listening sessions in 11 locations throughout the country to better understand the underpinnings of the criticism. The Civil Rights Action Team, in a detailed Report, noted that
“Many farmers told stories of years of bias, hostility, greed, ruthlessness, rudeness, and indifference not only by USDA employees but also by the local county committees that provide access to USDA’s Farm Service Agency programs. Minority, socially disadvantaged, and woman farmers charged that USDA has participated in a conspiracy to acquire land belonging to them and transfer it to wealthy landowners. . .”
The Report continued,
“Clearly, USDA has not effectively protected, supported, or promoted small and limited-resource farmers and ranchers and other underserved customers. Not only have they often not been served at all, but in many cases the service has appeared to be detrimental to the survival of minority and limited resource farmers.”
Finally, the Civil Rights Action Team acknowledged that
“The process for resolving program complaint has failed. Minority and limited-resource customers believe USDA has not acted in good faith on the complaints. Appeals are too often delayed and for too long. Favorable decisions are too often reversed.”
In the aftermath of this Report, four class action lawsuits were filed against the USDA between 1997 and 2000 by African American, Native American, Hispanic, and women farmers seeking relief from the decades of discrimination they suffered at the hands of the USDA.
The Hispanic farmers’ lawsuit is led by Lupe Garcia, a third-generation Hispanic farmer from Las Cruces, New Mexico. Mr. Garcia, his brother, and his father lost 626 acres to foreclosure in 1999, a direct result of what he claims were the discriminatory practices of his local farm agency, then known as the Farmers Home Administration (“FmHA”) and now the Farm Service Agency (“FSA”), under the auspices of the USDA.
For the past twelve years, the USDA and the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) have contested the allegations asserted by Mr. Garcia on behalf of thousands of Hispanic farmers. During that time, the USDA has settled identical claims brought by African American and Native American farmers by establishing claims programs overseen by the federal courts and administered by third-party neutrals selected in part by counsel for those farmers. In the vast majority of cases, African American and Native American farmers have taken advantage of these programs with free legal help paid for by the government as part of its settlement with the African American and Native American farmers.
To date, the government has set aside $2.25 billion for African American farmers, approximately $1.06 billion of which has already been paid to successful claimants, and $760 million for Native American farmers.
Meanwhile, not a penny has been paid to Hispanic or women farmers. The government has refused to settle their claims and has only recently rolled out an alternative dispute program (“The Framework”), which does not provide the same sort of procedural safeguards that the government afforded to the African American and Native American Farmers.
David Cantu is a fourth-generation Hispanic farmer from San Juan, Texas who, along with Mr. Garcia and others, has filed a second lawsuit against the government seeking relief from the government’s failure to provide Hispanic farmers with a settlement program equivalent to that which has been provided to the African American and Native American farmers. Mr. Cantu has filed this lawsuit on behalf of tens of thousands of Hispanic farmers from across the nation who claim that the USDA’s failure to provide an equitable relief program is just a continuation of the decades of discrimination the USDA admitted to over 15 years ago in the Report issued by the Civil Rights Action Team.
This site is dedicated to those Hispanic farmers who believe that decades of admitted discrimination by our government should be rectified by granting a fair settlement of their discrimination claims.
Welcome to the new combined site for the Cantu and Garcia cases. You can view related filings and documents by clicking on the case names in the navigation bar. The Press Room page contains links to press releases and media coverage of the cases. Please be sure to check out the Key Dates and Key Documents links on the left side panel.