Maxims: If You Seek Equity, You Must Do Equity

October 7, 2013 § 1 Comment

“He who seeks equity must do equity.”

Judge Griffith characterizes this maxim as “one of the oldest of equity principles.” He says (paragraphing added):

… the court in extending its aid will require as a condition thereof that the complaining party shall accord and render to the adversary party all the equitable rights to which the latter is entitled in respect directly to the subject matter of that suit, and this is true even as to many of those things which the defendant could not compel by an independent suit.  

It is through the peration of this maxim that tender or the equitable equivalent thereof is required; the restoring of benefits received and the placing of the opposite party in statu quo, and the like; and that without the necessity of cross demand [note: counterclaim in modern parlance], the decree [read judgment] may often be so drawn and rendered that each party may be given, in respect to the identical transaction, what in equity and in good conscience he ought to have and in the approximate manner in which he ought to have it — settling the whole matter by making any decree at all in complainant’s [read plaintiff’s] behalf conditional upon the allowance of the cognate rights of the defendant: provided, these latter rights are so intimately connected with the transaction as to be equitably inseparable therefrom, and provided that no express principle of the law stands in the way. Griffith, §43, pp. 45-46.

When a litigant invokes jurisdiction of the chancery court, that litigant is thereby bound by all equitable principles. Hooks v. Burns, 168 Miss. 723, 152 So. 469 (1934). It applies only to one seeking affirmative relief. Burton v. Mutual Life Ins. Co., 171 Miss. 596, 625, 158 So. 474 (1935). It protects the substantive rights of a defendant, and may not be extended to impose moral duties. Gaston v. King, 63 Miss. 326, 332 (1885).

I used to tell clients that we wanted to be the ones “wearing the white hats” in court. In part that was a nod to the wisdom behind this maxim. And, it was a recognition of the fact that the judge is always ready to aid the one in the right, and to set right the one in the wrong.

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