Maxims: No Wrong Without a Remedy
September 9, 2013 § 1 Comment
“Equity will not suffer a wrong without a remedy” is the maxim from which all of equity jurisprudence springs.
Over centuries the idea of “wrong” has been refined to include matters that are actionable, and to exclude those that the law deems not actionable. Judge Griffith explained it this way: ” … the maxim at this day is subordinate to positive institutions, and cannot be applied either to subvert established rules of law or to give a court of equity a jurisdiction beyond established principles.”
When the equity court has jurisdiction over the subject matter and the parties, it should be given wide latitude to fashion a remedy to correct a wrongful situation. As Judge Griffith stated:
“The maxim now means this: It is not necessary that some exact precedent must be found for extending relief in a given situation, if the case be such that under the established law of the land some relief is clearly requisite and a practical remedy consonant with established principles of procedure may be applied, — such a remedy is not to be denied merely because it cannot be found that the remedy was ever before applied in just that manner to that exact state of case. Under the operation of the maxim, modern equity is not authorized to create a substantive right where none such exists in the law of the land, nor to invent a distinctly new procedure to fit the case, beyond or outside of the procedural methods already established.” Griffith, Mississippi Chancery Practice, 2d Ed., 1950, § 35, p. 38.
When the law bestows a right, it also extends a remedy that can be granted in equity. Conversely, a court of equity will not supply a cause of action where none exists in the law.
In its early days, as the law developed procedures and forms of operation, claimants were limited to a few writs by which they could bring causes of action before the courts. The variety of writs was necessarily restricted in number, lest the courts be overwhelmed by multiplicity of suits. This system worked adequately as long as the parties were feudal lords who were relatively few in number. As commerce grew, however, and as more and more individuals acquired property interests and wealth, more and more controversies arose that simply did not fit within the confines of the recognized writs. Claimants were forced to appeal to the conscience of the King for relief from wrongs for which the writs did not afford a remedy. The King, having other matters of state to deal with, delegated that responsibility to the chancellor, who soon needed counterparts to handle the caseload. Over time the chancellors established precedent and certain principles — the maxims — that they followed in cases presented. The legal system administered by the King’s chancellors came to be known as equity, separate and distinct from the law.
At the very heart of equity is the principle that, if the court has jurisdiction, it will not allow a wrong recognized by our law to go unremedied, and it will always extend a remedy to a person who has a right conferred by the law. It is this principle, more than any other, that sets equity uniquely apart from the law.