(Federal court, North Dakota) I served as lead counsel from 1983 to 1985. Coleman stopped 16,000 foreclosures cold-turkey in 1983 and protected 240,000 farmers who had borrowed from the Farmers Home Administration from unconstitutional and illegal collection practices by USDA. The remedies imposed by Judge Bruce M. Van Sickle in the Coleman case were the genesis of permanent federal laws requiring fair appeal processes for most USDA programs. Congress called these protections the “Coleman” provisions and they are still in place today.
Four of my major cases are highlighted below:
Coleman v. Block
Keepseagle v. Vilsack
(Federal court, District of Columbia) I was co-counsel on a national class action for a class of many thousands of Native American farmers and ranchers who had suffered decades of credit discrimination from USDA. After years of very difficult litigation involving millions of documents and hundreds of depositions, USDA settled in 2012 for $790 million in damages, and up to $80 million in loan forgiveness. In addition to these monetary damages, USDA agreed to make major reforms in its lending practices with regard to Native American borrowers. The second phase of the lawsuit concerned the use of the leftover (“cy pres”) funds that remained after all claims were paid. The legacy of this case lives on with $36 million in awards to nonprofits helping Native American farmers and ranchers and the creation of the Native American Agriculture Fund.
Bank of North Dakota v. Folmer
(North Dakota Supreme Court) I stopped a foreclosure by the Bank of North Dakota against Russel and Anna Mae Folmer, two of the lead plaintiffs in Coleman v. Block. The Folmers’ defense to the foreclosure lawsuit was that prices of farm products were below the cost of production and thus “confiscatory,” and the court should have paused the foreclosure, based on a never-before-used 1933 North Dakota law. The Supreme Court agreed, and stopped the foreclosure. In subsequent years, the “confiscatory price defense” was used to protect many farms from foreclosure during the 1980s farm crisis.
Wiley v. Glickman
(Federal court, North Dakota) I sued on behalf of thousands of farmers who had purchased crop insurance on their durum wheat crop. After the policies had been issued, USDA sought to renege on coverage by $0.77 a bushel. I argued that USDA could not breach its contract and USDA argued that it could not be sued. The court said USDA’s conduct had to be considered “under basic principles of good faith and fairness” and USDA could not retroactively alter these contracts after they had been signed by both parties. This case started with one farmer complaining of a loss of $0.77, and ended with a payment of $41 million to 8000 farmers in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota.