Maxims: Aiding the Vigilant

September 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

“Equity aids the vigilant and not those who slumber on their rights.”

Judge Griffith puts this about as well as it can be said (I’ve broken it down into separate paragraphs):

“Those diligent find equity always ready to extend just aid, but the slothful are not favored.

“There is no principle of equity sounder or more conservative of peace and of fair play than this, which requires a party who has a claim to prefer or a right to assert to do so with a conscientious promptness while the witnesses to the transaction are yet available and before the facts have faded from their memories.

“It is a fact of universal experience that men will generally use diligence to get what rightfully belongs to them, and will unreasonably delay only as to false or ineuqitable claims, — thus in the hope that fortuitous circumstances may improve their otherwise doubtful chances.   

“If therefore a party delay the bringing of a suit, or delay the taking of some particular step therein, to such an unreasonable time that to allow him so late to proceed would work an injustice and injury upon the opposite party, it will require a much stronger case to move the court to action than if the matter had been seasonably presented; and if on account of the delay a serious injustice would result to the opposite party the court may decline to proceed at all.

“The maxim does not apply however to those under disability such as infants, nor can it be invoked by one who has lulled his adversary into repose by deceit, false promises, concealment and the like.” Griffith, § 41, p. 43.

Equity, then, treats rights that are not asserted within a reasonable time as having been abandoned, or as surrendered to the other party. Magee v. Catching, 4 George 672, 1857 WL 2672, (Miss. Err. App. 1857). [Note: Magee  is still good law, despite its antiquity, and despite the fact that it involved a mortgage secured by slaves.]

Equity is all about fairness. Equity looks askance at a complaining party who delays taking action to gain an advantage because of the inherent unfairness of the situation.

This maxim is the basis for the doctrine of laches, which we will address tomorrow.

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