Equitable Estoppel, Unjust Enrichment and the Good Samaritan Doctrine: Three Possible Defenses to a Farmers Home Administration Foreclosure Proceeding


For over two hundred years, our culture has recognized the family farm as a metaphor for the best that we can be. In art, literature, music, politics and ethics, we have turned again and again to the Jeffersonian vision of the small farm as living testimony to our deepest values. Today, the family farm is under siege in America; not by a foreign army, but by the very governmental agency designed to preserve it–the Farmers Home Administration (“FmHA”). This essay is designed to provide lawyers representing small farmers against the FmHA with a series of possible arguments to resist FmHA foreclosure; what follows is a work of advocacy.

Most litigation directed at FmHA on behalf of small farmers has, understandably, centered on statutory issues and on the procedural defects inherent in the FmHA debt collection process. This essay seeks to explore substantive defenses to FmHA foreclosure based on traditional notions of equity. Briefly put, I argue that fundamental conceptions of justice and fairness would be violated by permitting FmHA to foreclose on valuable farmland that became burdened by debt through the culpable failure of FmHA officials to administer its loan programs in a minimally competent manner. In short, I argue that FmHA should not be permitted to reap a benefit from its own wrongdoing.

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