An appeals court panel on Tuesday approved a lower court’s plan for distributing $380 million left over from the U.S. government’s loan discrimination settlement with American Indian farmers and ranchers six years ago.
President Barack Obama’s administration agreed in 2011 to pay $680 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed in 1999 by Indian farmers who said they were denied loans for decades because of government discrimination. The lead plaintiffs were George and Marilyn Keepseagle, ranchers on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border.
Only about half of the 10,000 expected claims came in. In April 2016, a judge approved a plan for the leftover money devised by the two sides in the lawsuit that included an additional payment of $21,275 to each claimant and about $300 million to groups that help Indians.
Two of the claimants appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, arguing that the entire $380 million should be divvied up among the class members. A three-judge panel on Tuesday voted 2-1 to uphold the district court’s finding that the plan was “fair, reasonable and adequate.”
“We look forward to putting this money to work to support farming and ranching among America’s first farmers,” said Joseph Sellers, lead lawyer for the plaintiffs. “Native American farmers and ranchers who have been fighting for themselves and their families for nearly a decade can finally bring this case to a close.”
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