Maxims: Complete Justice

September 10, 2013 § 1 Comment

The second essential maxim is that “Equity delights to do complete justice and not by halves.”

In pre-rules practice, this was regarded as an important procedural concept that encouraged practitioners to join as many claims as existed in the umbrella of a single suit. As Judge Griffith explained:

The maxim has a complete operation in this state. It is our settled policy that if equity have jurisdiction of the cause of action it should assume full jurisdiction and settle all disputed questions in one and the same suit as far as within the pleadings, and the court will allow and may even suggest such amendments to the pleadings as will permit full adjudication. There not only may, but generally must, be included in the one suit every clearly evident feature of the controversy and there must be made as parties all those substantially interested, so that when the matter is thus settled there will be no doors left open out of which it is probable that furher suits or further contention will spring. In short, equity will not permit litigation by fragments when it can be avoided by bringing the whole cognate matter into one suit. Griffith, § 37, p. 39.   

From a procedural standpoint, all of the principles enunciated by Judge Griffith are incorporated into our MRCP. R15 allows, and even encourages, liberal amendments to make sure that there are no pleading obstacles to complete relief. R8(e)(2) and R18 allow a party to assert as many claims or defenses that he has, whether consistent or not. R14 allows joinder of third parties. R19 and 20 provide for joinder of any and all persons needed for a just adjudication. R21 rules out misjoinder as a ground for dismissal, and allows for severance of claims for adjudication. R24 makes provision for intervention. R25 sets out the rules for substitution of parties.  

From a philosophical standpoint, however, this maxim has had much broader impact. It means that, once the court has taken jurisdiction, it should do what is necessary to effect complete justice, and not to stop because of some perceived pleading impediments or non-joinder. The chancellor should give the parties an opportunity to amend and/or bring in parties necessary to afford full relief, and then proceed. The spirit of the maxim is that a chancery proceeding is not a Gotcha! game in which the parties try to catch each other with their pants down, so to speak, but rather is a search for what is right, fair, and equitable, leading to application of a remedy that will completely achieve that right, fair, and equitable result.

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