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Case Name Cantu v. United States FH-DC-0011
Docket / Court 1:11-cv-00541-RBW-JMF ( D.D.C. )
State/Territory District of Columbia
Case Type(s) Fair Housing/Lending/Insurance
Case Summary
On March 15, 2011, a group of Hispanic farmers and ranchers brought suit against the United States and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, were potential claimants in ... read more >
On March 15, 2011, a group of Hispanic farmers and ranchers brought suit against the United States and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, were potential claimants in the proposed settlement agreement in Garcia v. Vilsack, an earlier case in which a group of Hispanic farmers and ranchers filed suit against the USDA, claiming that the USDA had systematically denied Hispanics farmers and ranchers loans and loan servicing in the 1990s. In this case, the plaintiffs claimed that the defendants had violated their Fifth Amendment equal protection and due process rights by offering a settlement agreement unequal to the settlement agreement offered to African American, Native American, and women farmers and ranchers who had previously sued the USDA over similar discrimination. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that the proposed settlement agreement was unequal in comparison to the other discrimination settlements because it did not provide judicial supervision (leading to deficient notice and defective claims processes); did not provide assistance of class counsel; provided disproportionate monetary relief (only $1.33 billion, compared to the $2.23 billion in the African American discrimination case, despite Hispanic farmers outnumbering African American farmers 12 to 1); required additional proof elements in the claims process; and did not propose compensation for non-credit farm benefits. The plaintiff filed under the Declaratory Judgment Act and the Administrative Procedures Act. They sought a declaration that this settlement proposal violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights and a permanent injunction prohibiting the defendants from engaging in racially discriminatory treatment of Hispanic farmers by treating them differently in comparison to African American, Native American, and women farmers with similar complaints.

On March 25, 2011, the plaintiffs filed papers for a putative class of plaintiffs in the Garcia case, who allegedly "were subjected to, and continue to be subject to, USDA discrimination in its farm benefit programs" and who "are potential claimants" under the defendants' administrative claim process for Hispanic farmers.

On May 11, 2011, the US moved to dismiss the case, denying any unlawful conduct and stating that the plaintiffs lacked standing, were attempting improper claim splitting, and were time barred. The plaintiffs moved to certify the class on June 11, 2011, and the defendant moved on June 14 to stay the certification motion pending adjudication of the motion to dismiss. On November 11, 2011, Judge Reggie B. Walton entered an order asking parties to clarify whether the plaintiffs' claims were ripe, given that the settlement agreement in Garcia had not been formally proposed. On December 21, 2011, Judge Walton entered an order denying all extant motions without prejudice, and holding the case in abeyance pending an announcement of the final version of Defendants' ADR program, because this suit would be unripe until the settlement agreement was formally proposed.

On January 20, 2012, the defendants in the Garcia case submitted the proposed framework for the settlement agreement. Based on the proposal, the plaintiffs in this case submitted a first amended complaint on April 13, 2012, and Judge Walton lifted the stay on the case on August 24, 2012. The defendant then moved to dismiss the amended complaint on September 24, 2012. On December 11, 2012, Judge Walton granted the defendants' motion to dismiss, ruling that there was no injury because participation in the administrative claims process was optional, and that the suit lacked redressability because the court had no way of compelling the government to propose a specific settlement agreement. 908 F. Supp. 2d 146.

On February 15, 2013, the plaintiffs entered a notice of appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (docket no. 13-05044). The Circuit court heard oral arguments from the parties more than a year later on May 7, 2014. In its opinion, the appellate court agreed that the plaintiffs' prayer for relief overreached because the court could not coerce a party, especially an Executive Branch agency, to settle in a case. Therefore, the district court correctly held that it lacked authority to enjoin the government to offer class settlement such as in previous cases. However, the appeals court reversed the lower court's decision and remanded the case on May 27, 2014 because the district court could have granted relief in the form of an injunction ordering the government not to act on unlawful racial grounds toward Hispanic and female farmers.

While the parties litigated the case in district court on remand, the defendant filed a new motion on November 25, 2014 to dismiss on the grounds that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction and that the complaint failed to state a valid claim. In response to the defendant's motion, the district court officially reopened the case on May 14, 2015.

On October 26, 2015, the defendant filed a status report regarding the voluntary alternative dispute resolution (ADR) program established for farmers alleging discrimination against Hispanic and female individuals in making or servicing farm loans. The Claims Adjudicator approved a total of 3,210 claims in the ADR program. On October 23, 2015, USDA reported as a total of 2,847 of the approved claims had been paid by the Judgment Fund, and another 126 claims were in process.

Months later, Judge Walton granted the defendant's renewed motion to dismiss the case. When the defendant moved to dismiss in November 2014, Judge Walton found that in light of the appeals court's agreement that a court cannot order a party to settle, only the plaintiffs' equal protection claim remained. Judge Walton reasoned that the plaintiffs' other claims related to specific terms of the ADR and therefore the court did not have the authority to adjudicate those issues.

In relation to plaintiffs' equal protection claim, the defendant contended that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim because the complaint did not allege facts showing that the defendant had a discriminatory purpose in settling claims brought by hispanic or female farmers. Judge Walton agreed with the defendant and dismissed the case in March 2016, closing the case.

Dan Osher - 07/07/2013
Asma Husain - 02/21/2016
Richa Bijlani - 11/20/2019


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Defendant-type
Bank or credit provider
Discrimination-area
Lending
Discrimination-basis
National origin discrimination
General
Disparate Treatment
National Origin/Ethnicity
Hispanic
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. ยงยง 551 et seq.
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) United States
Plaintiff Description Plaintiffs in Garcia v. Vilsack who are potential claimants in the Defendants' administrative claim process for Hispanic farmers.
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Filing Year 2011
Case Closing Year 2016
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing FH-DC-0010 : Garcia v. Vilsack (D.D.C.)
FH-DC-0012 : Love v. Vilsack (D.D.C.)
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
Docket(s)
13-5044 (U.S. Court of Appeals)
FH-DC-0011-9001.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/06/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
1:11-cv-00541-RBW (D.D.C.)
FH-DC-0011-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/21/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Class Action Complaint for Declaratory, Injunctive, and Other Relief [ECF# 1] (2011 WL 884416)
FH-DC-0011-0001.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 05/15/2011
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [ECF# 27] (D.D.C.)
FH-DC-0011-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/21/2011
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
First Amended Class Action Complaint for Declaratory, Injunctive, and Other Relief [ECF# 46]
FH-DC-0011-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/13/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion [ECF# 61] (2012 WL 6137032) (D.D.C.)
FH-DC-0011-0004.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 12/11/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judgment [Ct. of App. ECF# 1494454]
FH-DC-0011-0007.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/27/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Status Report [for defendant] [ECF# 75]
FH-DC-0011-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/08/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Status Report [for defendant] [ECF# 76]
FH-DC-0011-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/26/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Griffith, Thomas Beall (D.C. Circuit) show/hide docs
FH-DC-0011-0007
Pillard, Cornelia Thayer Livingston (D.D.C., D.C. Circuit) show/hide docs
FH-DC-0011-0007
Tatel, David S. (D.C. Circuit) show/hide docs
FH-DC-0011-0007
Walton, Reggie B. (FISC, D.D.C.) show/hide docs
FH-DC-0011-0002 | FH-DC-0011-0004 | FH-DC-0011-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Feinberg, Adam P (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FH-DC-0011-0003 | FH-DC-0011-9000
Ferguson, Laura G (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FH-DC-0011-9000 | FH-DC-0011-9001
Herman, Andrew Dewald (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FH-DC-0011-9000
Hibey, Richard A (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FH-DC-0011-0003 | FH-DC-0011-9000 | FH-DC-0011-9001
Hill, Stephen S (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FH-DC-0011-0001 | FH-DC-0011-9000
Kossak, Jonathan D (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FH-DC-0011-9000
Ruyak, Robert F. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FH-DC-0011-0003 | FH-DC-0011-9000 | FH-DC-0011-9001
Defendant's Lawyers Cohen, Vincent H. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FH-DC-0011-0005
Delery, Stuart F. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FH-DC-0011-9001
Dover, Marleigh D. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FH-DC-0011-9001
Machen, Ronald C (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FH-DC-0011-9001
Mizer, Benjamin C. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FH-DC-0011-0005 | FH-DC-0011-0006
Olson, Lisa A (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FH-DC-0011-0005 | FH-DC-0011-9000
Scarborough, Charles W. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
FH-DC-0011-9001

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