Maxims: Specifically and not by way of Compensation

September 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

“Equity acts specifically, and not by way of compensation.”

Perhaps a more modern statement of this maxim would be, “Equity acts specifically, and is not limited to compensation.”

At common law, the courts were limited to awarding damages for actual injuries that had already occurred, or to order delivery of property to which the plaintiff could prove legal title. Equity, however, had the power to prevent future injuries and withholding of property, as well as to award compensation.

The function of equity is to right a wrong, to provide a remedy for it, and to preclude its recurrence.

In Judge Griffith’s words:

[Equity] adjudges, for instance, that a party who holds the legal title in trust shall perform the trust in the specific manner required by that trust; or it will cancel legal titles for fraud, mistake and the like, and freed therefrom will deliver the property to the rightful party, or it will reform a contract and enforce it as reformed to the end that the party shall have the specific thing to which he is entitled, — and in every situation it aims at a more complete and a more exact justice than that which is attainable at law, by rendering unto the party the specific thing in its specific original form, so far as possible, rather than the general relief solely of damages. Griffith, § 38, p. 40.

“A more complete and a more exact justice … ” the aim of every chancery court proceeding.

Above I stated that the maxim could be restated as “not limited to …” That’s because our courts have long held that if chancery court has subject matter jurisdiction it may exercise pendent jurisdiction over all legal (compensatory) claims associated with the equity claim. See, e.g., Hall v. Corbin, 478 So.2d 253, 255 (Miss. 1985). “If it appears from the face of a well-pleaded complaint that an independent basis for equity jurisdiction exists, then a chancery court may hear and adjudge legal claims. RE/Max Real Estate Partners, Inc. v. Lindsley, 840 So.2d 709, 711–12 (¶ 13) (Miss.2003). Conversely, ‘if the complaint seeks legal relief, even in combination with equitable relief, the circuit court can have proper subject matter jurisdiction and adjudge pendant equitable claims.’ RAS Family Partners [v. Onnam Biloxi, LLC], 968 So.2d [926,] 928 (¶ 11) [(Miss.2007)].”

The underlying philosophy of equity becomes more and more apparent with each succeeding maxim. Equity will fashion a remedy that meets and cures the situation and renders its recurrence less likely, not allowing title or possession to stand in its way. Equity is not limited to assessing damages. Equity may order that acts be done, may impose equitable trusts and other equitable remedies incidental to effective relief, may impose deadlines, and may punish noncompliance.

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