In the early 1980s, USDA used an appeal procedure for farm borrowers that “starved” farmers out by seizing all of their income, long in advance of an appeal hearing before a biased hearing officer who oftentimes had been involved in the decision being appealed. I challenged the constitutionality of these procedures in my class action lawsuit Coleman v. Block.
After we won our case, the “Coleman” fair hearing reforms—requiring a neutral hearing officer, fair appeals procedures, and proper advance notice of the right to apply for a deferral—were eventually put into law in Title VI of the 1987 Agriculture Credit Act (ACA).
The present form of the National Appeals Division (NAD) was established by Congress in the Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994. Compared to the pre-Coleman appeal procedures, the NAD appeals system is a dream come true.
Today, the tagline of the USDA Appeals Division is “Face to Face Fairness.” The agency boasts about their fair process: “you can file an appeal of a program decision by USDA agencies that does not go in your favor and get an impartial hearing within 45 days.”