Frequently Asked Questions
  1. What is a Class Action?
  2. Am I being sued?
  3. Do I have to pay for a lawyer?
  4. Do I have to participate?
  5. What is the difference between filing an Objection and filing a Request for Exclusion?
  6. Can I object and then exclude myself later?
  7. If I exclude myself from the Settlement, is it possible for me to opt back in?
  8. Is this case related to the Cobell case (Cobell v. Salazar)?
  9. Will the Settlement in this case require action by Congress, like the settlement in Cobell or Pigford II?
  10. What is the lawsuit about?
  11. What does the Settlement provide?
  12. What else does the Settlement provide?
  13. Who is eligible to participate in the lawsuit?
  14. Why does the claims process not include claims of discrimination between January 1, 1997 and November 23, 1997 as well as discrimination complaints made between July 1, 1997 and November 23, 1997?
  15. Who is considered Native American?
  16. How much money can I get?
  17. Who will decide if I am eligible for payment, or not?
  18. Did all members of the Class receive notification?
  19. What are my options?
  20. What happens if I do nothing?
  21. What I am giving up if I stay in the Settlement?
  22. How can I object to the Settlement?
  23. How can I exclude myself from the Settlement?
  24. Who represents me in this Class Action?
  25. What is the current status of the lawsuit?
  26. How can I get assistance filing a claim?
  1. I am incapacitated, elderly, or otherwise unable to travel. Will special arrangements be made by Class Counsel to provide me with assistance with my claim?
  2. Will assistance be available in respective tribal languages?
  3. Are only specific types of loans covered?
  4. What if I was discriminated against in a non-credit entitlement program?
  5. Can you help me, or connect me with someone who can help me with what I think is current discrimination against me by the USDA?
  6. I have submitted a claim, and now the USDA is threatening to accelerate my payment schedule or foreclose on my loan. What can I do?
  7. If I am of mixed heritage and participated in the Black Farmers Pigford Settlement but can provide proof of my Native American Ancestry, is it possible for me to make a claim in this Settlement?
  8. If I am of mixed heritage and believe I am part of the Garcia v. Vilsack case, but can provide proof of my Native American Ancestry, is it possible for me to make a claim in this Settlement?
  9. If I am a woman and believe I am part of the Love v. Vilsack case, but can provide proof of my Native American Ancestry, is it possible for me to make a claim in this Settlement?
  10. If I believe I was discriminated against by the USDA/FSA in a non-credit program, can I make a claim in this Settlement?
  11. Where can I get more information?
  12. What are the benefits being offered?
  13. When will I be paid?
  14. Will my award be taxable?
  15. How long after the Court approves the Settlement will payments be made?
  16. Can I file a Claim Form by email, fax or electronically?
  17. I am going to a meeting, what should I bring?
  18. Can you provide an explanation of the difference between Co-applicants and Co-claimants and the possible complications of confusing the two categories on the Claim Form?
  19. Can I file a late claim?
  1. What is a Class Action?

    In a Class Action, one or more people called “Class Representatives” sue on behalf of themselves and other people who have similar claims and allegations. All these people are Plaintiffs and they are considered a “Class”. The people they are suing are called the Defendants.

    If the Class receives certification, as it did here, one Court decides the issues in the lawsuit for all Class members, except for those who ask to exclude themselves from the Class.

    Back To Top

  2. Am I being sued?

    You are not being sued. You can choose whether to participate in the Settlement. Your options are explained in the Notice, which is also available here.

    Back To Top

  3. Do I have to pay for a lawyer?

    No. You, and all other Class Members, are represented by Class Counsel at no cost to you. Class Counsel are lawyers appointed by the Court to look after the interests of the Class Members. While it is not necessary for you to get your own lawyer, you have the right to do so. However, you would have to pay for that lawyer with your own money.

    Back To Top

  4. Do I have to participate?

    No. You have no legal obligation to participate in a Class Action. However, we suggest that you examine your available options before deciding whether to participate or not. Your rights are affected even if you do nothing.

    Back To Top

  5. What is the difference between filing an Objection and filing a Request for Exclusion?

    Objecting is simply telling the Court that you don’t like something about the Settlement. You can object only if you stay in the Class. Excluding yourself – sometimes called opting out - is telling the Court that you don’t want to be part of the Class or Settlement.

    Back To Top

  6. Can I object and then exclude myself later?

    No. You cannot do both. If you object, you will stay in the Class, and be bound by the Court’s decisions and the final terms of the Settlement no matter whether you file a claim.

    If you exclude yourself, or “opt out”, you are no longer a Class Member and will not be bound by the final outcome of the Settlement no matter what might happen as the result of the Fairness Hearing and any objections that may have been considered.

    Back To Top

  7. If I exclude myself from the Settlement, is it possible for me to opt back in?

    No. If you exclude yourself from the Settlement, then you cannot file a claim or otherwise participate in the Settlement.

    Back To Top

  8. Is this case related to the Cobell case (Cobell v. Salazar)?

    No. The Cobell lawsuit is against the U.S. Department of the Interior and claims mis-management of individual Indian trust accounts. This lawsuit is against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and claims that the USDA discriminated against Native American farmers and ranchers who applied for or attempted to apply for farm loans and loan servicing. For more information on the difference between Cobell and Keepseagle, please click here.

    Back To Top

  9. Will the Settlement in this case require action by Congress, like the settlement in Cobell or Pigford II?

    No. The Court has approved the Settlement therefore the money will be paid. No action is required by Congress.

    Back To Top

  10. What is the lawsuit about?

    The lawsuit claims that the USDA denied thousands of Native American farmers and ranchers the same opportunities to get farm loans or loan servicing that were given to white farmers and ranchers. Plaintiffs also claim that the USDA did not do outreach to Native American farmers and ranchers or provide them with the technical assistance they needed to prepare applications for loans and loan servicing.

    Back To Top

  11. What does the Settlement provide?

    The USDA will pay $760 million to settle the lawsuit. After deducting certain amounts, including attorneys’ fees and awards, two funds will be created. The first fund will pay Class Members who submit valid claims. The second fund will provide up to $80 million for full or partial loan forgiveness to qualifying Class Members. In addition, the USDA will pay up to $20 million (not included in $760 million) for the costs of administering the settlement.

    If any money remains in the Settlement Fund after all payments to class members and expenses have been paid, then it will be donated to one or more organizations that have provided agricultural, business assistance, or advocacy services to Native Americans.

    Back To Top

  12. What else does the Settlement provide?

    The Settlement provides for improvements in the delivery of Farm Loan Program services to Native Americans. Those changes include:

    • Creating a Council for Native American Farming and Ranching. The Council will include Native American, Alaska Native leaders, Farm Service Agency (“FSA”) and USDA officials and will meet twice a year. This Council will be responsible for ensuring the farm loan program is fully responsive to the particular needs of the Native American and Alaska Native farmers and ranchers.
    • Creating a position for a USDA Ombudsperson for Native and Other Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers to serve as a point of contact for these farming and ranching communities and to track civil rights complaints and address any related programmatic issues.
    • Reviewing farm loan program guidelines, considering suggestions from Class Counsel and the Council for Native American Farming and Ranching to make them more responsive to the needs of Native Americans.
    • Improving the oversight of farm loan program operations.
    • Enhancing the ability of Native Americans to continue to farm and ranch by establishing 10-15 regional venues to provide technical training and support and developing a plain language guide to the application for farm loans and loan servicing. If funds are available, the USDA will also fund and staff consolidated sub-offices at Tribal Headquarters on Indian Reservations.

    For Class Members who show evidence of discrimination in the claims process, for a certain period of time the USDA has also agreed to suspend foreclosures, debt acceleration payments, and referring to the Treasury requests to offset or withhold other federal benefits that are used to pay down outstanding loans.

    Back To Top

  13. Who is eligible to participate in the lawsuit?

    Class Members are eligible to participate. The Class includes all Native American farmers and ranchers who:

    • Farmed or ranched or attempted to farm or ranch between January 1, 1981 and November 24, 1999; and
    • Sought, or attempted to seek, a farm loan from the USDA during that period; and
    • Complained about discrimination to the USDA orally or in writing on their own or through a representative, such as a tribal government, during the same time period.

    Excluded are claims of class members who either:

    • Experienced discrimination only between January 1 and November 23, 1997; or
    • Complained of discrimination only between July 1 and November 23, 1997.

    Back To Top

  14. Why does the claims process not include claims of discrimination between January 1, 1997 and November 23, 1997 as well as discrimination complaints made between July 1, 1997 and November 23, 1997?

    This is an unusual feature of the laws which affect this case. There are two different laws which determine the dates for an acceptable claim. Neither one of these laws cover the January 1, 1997 to November 23, 1997 time period for discriminatory conduct or the July 1, 1997 to November 23, 1997 time period for discrimination claims.

    Back To Top

  15. Who is considered Native American?

    A Native American includes any person who meets one or more of the requirements listed below:

    • Is a member of a tribe, band, nation, or community, including any Alaska Native village or regional or village corporation (as established in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act) which is recognized as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians, also known as a “federally recognized tribe,” or
    • Is a member of any Indian group that has been formally recognized as an Indian tribe by a State legislature or other similar organization vested with State tribal recognition authority, also known as a “state recognized tribe,” or
    • Is a member of any Indian tribe or “Native group” (according to 43 U.S.C. § 1602.(c) and (d)) that asked the United States government for Federal recognition, or
    • Represented himself or herself as a Native American before November 24, 1999. This can be confirmed by providing:
      • A credible written narrative, submitted under “penalty of perjury” (under oath), describing in detail the circumstances of his or her Native American ancestry that will convince the independent evaluators that it is genuine.

    For the purposes of this Settlement, membership in an Indian tribe will be defined by the laws or rules of the Indian tribe in which you say you are a member. You will need to verify your tribal membership by providing a copy of an official tribal document that states that you are a member of the Indian tribe, such as:

    • An identification card that states that you are currently a member of the Indian tribe, or
    • A letter or statement from the tribal government that states that you are regarded as a member of the Indian tribe.

    Back To Top

  16. How much money can I get?

    Your actual payment cannot be determined yet. The amount of money you are eligible to receive will depend on whether you file a claim under Track A or Track B. It will also depend on the total number of Class Members who make successful claims.

    In order to receive a share of the money in the Settlement, you must file a claim through either the Track A or Track B procedure.

    Track A – If you file a claim on this track and your claim is successful, you may get a payment up to $50,000 for your discrimination claim. You will also be eligible to get an additional 25% of that amount which will be paid directly to the IRS to reduce any income tax you may owe on the money awarded to you. The amount that will actually be paid to those who qualify will depend upon the number of Class Members who make successful claims through Track A.

    Track B – If you file a claim on this track and your claim is successful, you may get a payment up to up to $250,000 for your discrimination claim. Track B requires more proof of discrimination than Track A and likely the help of a lawyer. The amount that will actually be paid to those who qualify will depend upon the number of Class Members who make successful claims through Track B. For more information on filing a Track B claim, please click here.

    USDA Loan Forgiveness – USDA will provide up to $80 million to forgive outstanding loans of qualifying Class Members who file a successful claim through Track A or Track B. If you have certain USDA loans you may be eligible for loan forgiveness as well as an additional payment made to the IRS of 25% of the loan forgiven to reduce any income tax you may owe.

    Back To Top

  17. Who will decide if I am eligible for payment, or not?

    An independent evaluator will review claims made through Track A and Track B and determine how much you should be paid. For Track B claims only, an experienced agricultural economist may assist the independent evaluator in assessing the financial value of your claims.

    Back To Top

  18. Did all members of the Class receive notification?

    The records of potential Class Members are incomplete. All Class Members who request a Notice or Claims Package via the Settlement website or by calling the toll-free number will be mailed a Notice.Claims Packages will begin mailing June 29, 2011. You may still request a Claims Package via the Settlement website or by calling the toll-free number.

    Back To Top

  19. What are my options?

    You may file a claim, exclude yourself from the Settlement, object, or simply do nothing.

    Back To Top

  20. What happens if I do nothing?

    If you do nothing, you will not get any money or loan forgiveness from the Settlement. You will be bound by the Court’s decisions. Unless you exclude yourself, you won’t be able to start a lawsuit, continue with a lawsuit, or be part of any other lawsuit against the USDA about the legal issues in this case, ever again.

    Back To Top

  21. What I am giving up if I stay in the Settlement?

    Unless you exclude yourself from the Settlement, you can’t sue the USDA, continue to sue, or be part of any other lawsuit against the USDA about the legal issues in this case. It also means that all of the decisions by the Court will bind you. The “Release of Claims” is described more fully in Section XVIII of the Settlement Agreement and describes exactly the legal claims that you give up if you remain in the Settlement. The Settlement Agreement is available here.

    Back To Top

  22. How can I object to the Settlement?

    If you have comments about, or disagree with, any aspect of the Settlement, including the requested attorneys’ fees, you may express your views to the Court by writing to the address below. The written response should include your name, address, telephone number, the case name and number (Keepseagle v. Vilsack, Civil Action Number 1:99cv03119), a brief explanation of your reasons for objecting, and your signature. The response must be postmarked no later than February 28, 2011 and mailed to:

    Keepseagle Settlement Comments
    PO Box 3560
    Portland, Oregon 97208-3560

    Back To Top

  23. How can I exclude myself from the Settlement?

    To exclude yourself from the Settlement, you must send a letter that includes your name, address and telephone number, a signed statement saying that you want to be excluded from Keepseagle v. Vilsack, Civil Action Number 1:99cv03119. You must mail your exclusion request, postmarked no later than February 28, 2011, to:

    Keepseagle Settlement Exclusions
    PO Box 3560
    Portland, Oregon 97208-3560

    Back To Top

  24. Who represents me in this Class Action?

    The Court has appointed several law firms to represent you as “Class Counsel.” The law firms are: Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll [www.cohenmilstein.com]; Conlon, Frantz & Phelan [www.conlonfrantz.com]; Jenner & Block [www.jenner.com]; Patton Boggs [www.pattonboggs.com]; Stinson Morrison Hecker [www.stinson.com]; and Sarah Vogel Law Firm [www.svlawpartners.com]. You do not have to pay Class Counsel. If you want to be represented by your own lawyer, and have that lawyer appear in court for you in this case, you may hire one at your own expense.

    Back To Top

  25. What is the current status of the lawsuit?

    All discovery (or research) was completed, and the lawsuit was nearly ready to go to trial when both sides in the case entered into the Settlement Agreement. The counsel for the plaintiff class submitted a request to the Court for preliminary approval of the Settlement on October 22, 2010. The Court has granted preliminary approval of the proposed Agreement, and approved the plan for issuing notice to potential class members. A final fairness hearing at which the Court will decide whether or not to approve the Settlement took place on April 28, 2011 and the Court has approved the Settlement. Claims Packages will begin mailing June 29, 2011. The deadline for claims submission is December 27, 2011

    Back To Top

  26. How can I get assistance filing a claim?

    There will be many meetings held throughout the country to help you fill out a Claims Package. The dates and times for these meetings will be posted on this website or you can speak to a claimant services representative at 888-233-5506 to find a meeting near you. If you register for a Claims Package you will be mailed information on any meetings that will be held in your area along with the Claims Package. You are encouraged to attend a meeting and get help filling out a claim.

    Back To Top

  27. I am incapacitated, elderly, or otherwise unable to travel. Will special arrangements be made by Class Counsel to provide me with assistance with my claim?

    Yes. Meetings are being scheduled in a wide variety of locations for those able to travel short distances. For those who are unable to travel at all, you may schedule a consultation with Class Counsel via telephone. Call 888-233-5506 during the claims process if you need to request assistance by telephone.

    Back To Top

  28. Will assistance be available in respective tribal languages?

    Yes. If people register in advance for a meeting and note their translator needs, we will arrange for translation services, or schedule an alternative meeting when a translator can be available if necessary.

    Back To Top

  29. Are only specific types of loans covered?

    Yes. Eligible farm loans include operating loans, emergency loans, including economic emergency loans, and farm ownership loans.

    Back To Top

  30. What if I was discriminated against in a non-credit entitlement program?

    This settlement only addresses the farm loan and loan servicing programs described above, and not other activities of USDA.

    Back To Top

  31. Can you help me, or connect me with someone who can help me with what I think is current discrimination against me by the USDA?

    No. Our specific involvement and responsibilities are to provide information and assistance to callers who may be Class Members wanting to know how to participate in this Settlement. We are unable to provide the type of assistance or advice about other issues. We can only suggest that you contact the United States Department of Agriculture Office of Civil Rights. Here is their information:

    USDA Farm Service Agency, Office of Civil Rights
    Compliance and Program Analysis Branch
    Telephone Numbers
    202-401-7164 (Phone)
    202-401-0264 (Fax)

    You may send a written complaint to the following address:

    U.S. Department of Agriculture
    Director, Office of Adjudication
    1400 Independence Avenue, SW
    Washington, DC 20250-9410

    Back To Top

  32. I have submitted a claim, and now the USDA is threatening to accelerate my payment schedule or foreclose on my loan. What can I do?

    Under the Settlement Agreement, a moratorium went into effect on November 1, 2010 which temporarily bars USDA from accelerating payment schedules, foreclosing on loans, or initiating offsets. USDA has confirmed this moratorium in Notice FLP-577 (a copy is available on the Documents page of this website). Any FSA loan owed by a Native American borrower, which was not already in foreclosure as of November 1, 2010, is subject to the moratorium until after the claims process is completed in the Keepseagle settlement. If the borrower does not make a claim in Keepseagle, or if their claim is unsuccessful, then USDA may begin foreclosure or other actions. If the borrower makes a successful claim, at least part of their outstanding debt will be forgiven, and they will be eligible for a new round of loan servicing consideration as to any remaining debt.

    Even though there is a moratorium in effect, if you are behind in your loan payments, USDA may send you a form called “Notice of Availability of Loan Servicing to Borrowers Who Are 90 Days Past Due” that says if you do not bring your loan current that USDA may accelerate and foreclose on your loan. Although USDA cannot accelerate or foreclose during the moratorium, this is only temporary. Because a claimant may not be successful, or may be successful but not obtain full forgiveness of all debt, Class Counsel urges everyone who receives a notice from USDA that they are at risk of foreclosure or acceleration to apply for loan servicing within the deadlines established by USDA.

    Back To Top

  33. If I am of mixed heritage and participated in the Black Farmers Pigford Settlement but can provide proof of my Native American Ancestry, is it possible for me to make a claim in this Settlement?

    No. Because these cases address the same types of claims, a person may only file a claim and get a payment in one case. If you have already participated in Pigford, you will not be permitted to file a claim in this case. If you have requested to file a claim in Pigford II, you will not be awarded relief in this Settlement unless you withdraw your claim in Pigford II before the Claim Deadline in this case.

    Back To Top

  34. If I am of mixed heritage and believe I am part of the Garcia v. Vilsack case, but can provide proof of my Native American Ancestry, is it possible for me to make a claim in this Settlement?

    Yes, but then you cannot make a claim in connection with the Love case. Because these cases address the same types of claims, a person may only file a claim and get a payment one case. You can make a claim either in this Settlement or in the Love case, but not both.

    Back To Top

  35. If I am a woman and believe I am part of the Love v. Vilsack case, but can provide proof of my Native American Ancestry, is it possible for me to make a claim in this Settlement?

    Yes, but then you cannot make a claim in connection with the Love case. Because these cases address the same types of claims, a person may only file a claim and get a payment one case. You can make a claim either in this Settlement or in the Love case, but not both.

    Back To Top

  36. If I believe I was discriminated against by the USDA/FSA in a non-credit program, can I make a claim in this Settlement?

    No. This settlement only addresses the farm loan and loan servicing programs described above, and not other activities of the USDA.

    Back To Top

  37. Where can I get more information?

    You may obtain more information by periodically visiting the case website or by calling 888-233-5506.

    Back To Top

  38. What are the benefits being offered?

    The USDA will pay $760 million to settle the lawsuit. After deducting certain amounts, including attorneys’ fees and awards, $80 million will be available for USDA loan forgiveness, and the remaining money will be distributed in cash to Class Members who submit valid claims.

    Your actual payment cannot be determined yet. The amount of money you are eligible to receive will depend on whether you file a claim under Track A or Track B. It will also be based on the total number of successful claims that are filed.

    Back To Top

  39. When will I be paid?

    Payments will not be made until all Claims Packages are reviewed. This cannot happen until after December 27, 2011. Please be patient.

    If you have submitted a complete and timely claim, the very earliest you can expect to receive a decision and/or payment is in the summer of 2012.

    Back To Top

  40. Will my award be taxable?

    Yes. However, for awards made under Track A and for Debt Relief Awards, an additional payment of 25% of the amount of the award will be paid directly to the IRS to reduce the income tax you may owe. The amount of the cash award will be determined after all claims have been evaluated.

    If you file a claim and are approved under Track B, you can get the amount of your actual damages up to $250,000, but unlike Track A, you will be responsible for any taxes you may owe. Under Track B, you are not eligible for a tax award; except for on any Debt Relief Award you receive.

    Back To Top

  41. How long after the Court approves the Settlement will payments be made?

    Although estimates of a timeframe may be contained in the Settlement materials, the actual payment date will depend on a number of variables. A timeframe will be set and made available only after all of the necessary legal and processing requirements have been met. Once a payment date has been set we will be glad to share it with you. The very earliest you can expect to receive a decision and/or payment is in the summer of 2012.

    Back To Top

  42. Can I file a Claim Form by email, fax or electronically?

    Since an original signature is required on each Claim Form, we cannot accept your Claim Form by email or by fax or electronically.

    Back To Top

  43. I am going to a meeting, what should I bring?

    You will want to bring your proof of Native American status, and any documents you believe will be helpful to your case. You may also bring your claim form with any notes including things you want to talk about with the lawyers.

    Back To Top

  44. Can you provide an explanation of the difference between Co-applicants and Co-claimants and the possible complications of confusing the two categories on the Claim Form?

    Co-applicants are individuals who jointly applied to the USDA for a farm loan. Commonly this would be husband and wife, brothers/sisters, or business partners who jointly own and operate a farm together. Co-claimants are class members submitting claims under the Settlement who were or would have been Co-applicants had they applied for a loan from USDA. The claims process provides for only one payment for each farm operation with a successful claim, not one payment per person, and thus co-applicants will become Co-claimants and receive one award if their claim is successful.

    Back To Top

  45. Can I file a late claim?

    You may submit a claim at anytime. Unfortunately at this time, the Keepseagle claim filing deadline cannot be extended for any circumstances. All submissions received after December 27, 2011 will be considered late, and therefore, ineligible to receive an award from the Settlement.

    Back To Top