Maxims: Equity Will Act for the Disabled

October 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

It is a fundamental function of chancery court to protect those who can not protect themselves, either because of mental or physical disability or because of legal disability.

The maxim that confers this power is that “When parties are disabled, equity will act for them.”

Judge Griffith lays it out (with paragraphing added):

Infants and persons of unsound mind are disabled, under the law, to act for themselves. Long ago it became the established rule for the court of chancery to act as the superior guardian for all persons under such disability.

Thus it is that through the agencies of next friends, guardians ad litem, masters and the like the court acts with all care and solicitude to the preservation and protection of the rights of infants and persons non compos mentis; will not permit them to be proceeded against except upon due legal process actually served in the manner provided by law; will take nothing actually confessed against them; will make for them every valuable election; will rescue them from faithless guardians, designing strangers and even unnatural parents, and will in general take all necessary steps to conserve the best interests of these wards of the court. Griffith, § 45, p. 48. 

That is some strong language that reflects the breadth of the chancery court’s power to intervene for the benefit of those who cannot protect their own interests. Case law echoes Judge Griffith’s use of the term “superior guardian” time after time. It’s a bedrock concept of chancery jurisdiction. 

The Mississippi Constitution, § 159, vests chancery court with original jurisdiction in “Minor’s business” and “Cases of idiocy, lunacy, and persons of unsound mind.” The most recent case illustrating the constitutional dimensions of the chancery court’s power is DHS v. Watts, handed down December 6, 2012, in which the MSSC resolved a question of disputed jurisdiction between a chancery court in one county and a youth court in another county.

I previously posted here and here on the scope of the disabilities of minority.

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