Litigator of the Week: A Giant of the Plaintiffs Bar—and a Giant Settlement

The American Lawyer

May 19, 2017

Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll partner Joseph Sellers just won approval of a major settlement in a decades old discrimination class action, for what he hopes is the last time.  Sellers represents a class of Native American farmers and ranchers who faced discrimination in loan processing by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The case involved thorny discovery, the testing of new legal theories, and complex settlement negotiations with the Justice Department. For Sellers, it was about returning what was owed to some of the country’s most marginalized citizens.

“They were our nation’s first farmers and ranchers, which is part of the spirit behind this case,” he said.

The first settlement was approved in 2011 for $680 million. But after the claims process, more than half the money was left over in the fund.  Another battle ensued over what to do with the extra money.

Just this week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld a new settlement, which both allows members of the class to collect an additional $18,500 apiece and creates a massive $265 million trust to allocate money to nonprofits serving the needs of Native American farmers. It will be “the largest philanthropic institution to serve Native Americans in the history of U.S.,” Sellers said.

The full American Lawyer article can be viewed here.