Maxims: Clean Hands

October 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

“He who comes into equity must come with clean hands.”

This maxim is the source of the so-called “Clean Hands” doctrine that every chancery practitioner has encountered at one time or another.

Judge Griffith’s description is apt today. Here’s what the judge said (paragraphs added):

” … [N]o person as a complaining party can have the aid of a court of equity when his conduct with respect to the transaction in question has been characterized by wilful inequity, or illegality.

“It does not exclude a party because in some other matter his conduct may have been reprehensible; it refers only to the subject matter of the particular suit in hand.

“The wrongful conduct which will bar the complainant need not be so gross as to be a crime punishable as such, nor so positive as within itself to form the basis of a legal action. It may be described as such wilful misconduct, inequity or fraud  with respect to the immediate transaction as would be condemned and pronounced wrongful by homest and fair-minded men.” Griffith § 42, p. 44.

As Judge Griffith goes on to say, the doctrine of clean hands is purely defensive in nature, and can not be used by a party to acquire rights to which he or she would otherwise not be entitled. It is not required that it be pled, and the court may apply it, even on its own motion, at any time that it becomes evident in the course of litigation that it has come into play.

The doctrine acts as a form of estoppel. A former wife was estopped from obtaining a judgemnt of contempt against her ex-husband when it was established that she had failed to comply with the judgment herself. Brennan v. Brennan, 605 So.2d 749, 752 (Miss. 1992). See also, Banks v. Banks, 648 So.2d 1116, 1126 (Miss. 1994).

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