Laches & Unclean Hands: Defenses to Equitable Claims

Legal damages are appropriate when an amount of money would be sufficient compensation for a wrong committed. Equitable remedies are appropriate when the Court order a person to do something or stop from doing something, such as with a temporary restraining order or injunction, because money is inadequate.
While there are all sorts of defenses to legal damages claims, equitable claims are a different kind of animal. Because of the unique nature of equitable claims, there are unique defenses. Two such defenses are unclean hands and unjust enrichment.
Missouri employs the rule that equity will not aid a party who comes into court with unclean hands.  The triggering of the “unclean hands” doctrine does not require the party against whom it applies to have engaged in fraudulent conduct.  Instead, one who has engaged in inequitable activity regarding the very matter for which he seeks relief will find his action barred by his own misconduct.
Laches, on the other hand, is a quasi-statute of limitations for equitable claims. There is no fixed period within which a right or claim must be asserted in order that it avoid being barred by laches. Temporal limits are drawn in light of the circumstances of the particular case; mere delay, in and of itself, does not constitute laches. Laches is a question of fact to be determined from all the evidence and circumstances adduced at trial. Laches cannot be invoked to thwart right or justice, but only to defeat resultant prejudice, if not invoked, to one asserting it. Prejudice which supports laches generally falls into one or the other of two categories, i.e., (1) loss of evidence which would support the position of one seeking to invoke laches with regard to the claim he is called upon to defend against, and (2) a change of position by one seeking to invoke laches in a way that would not have occurred but for the delay.
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