October 1, 2013 § Leave a comment

We discussed yesterday the maxim that “Equity aids the vigilant and not those who slumber on their rights.” Equity will not act where one party gains an advantage by delaying taking action.

The maxim is embodied in the equity doctrine of laches. Although it resembles the effect of statutes of limitation, laches is not based on, limited to, or bound by any statute of limitations. Judge Griffith explained it this way (broken into paragraphs):

“It is a rule peculiar to and inherent in courts of equity; and it applies where it would be practically unjust to give a remedy, either because the applicant has by his conduct done that which might be fairly regarded as a waiver of his remedy, or where by his conduct and neglect he has, though perhaps not waiving that remedy, yet put the other party in a situation in which it would not be reasonable to place him if the remedy were to be afterward asserted.

“A long or protracted delay in the prosecution of rights is presumed to have produced the situation last mentioned and equity looks with so little favor upon such prosecutions that it will not entertain them, although no express statute of limitations is available, — unless facts are shown which will rebut the preseumption of injustice arising out of the apparently undue delay, or which will excuse the same.” Griffith, § 33, pp. 35-36.

Laches is independent of any statute, and gives rise to a rebuttable presumption of unfairness. It is within the discretion of the chancellor. Griffith, § 33, p. 36, fn. 24a.




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