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A defense to an equitable action, that bars recovery by the plaintiff because of the plaintiff's undue delay in seeking relief.
Laches is a defense to a proceeding in which a plaintiff seeks equitable relief. Cases in Equity are distinguished from cases at law by the type of remedy, or judicial relief, sought by the plaintiff. Generally, law cases involve a problem that can be solved by the payment of monetary damages. Equity cases involve remedies directed by the court against a party.
Types of equitable relief include Injunction, where the court orders a party to do or not to do something; declaratory relief, where the court declares the rights of the two parties to a controversy; and accounting, where the court orders a detailed written statement of money owed, paid, and held. Courts have complete discretion in equity, and weigh equitable principles against the facts of the case to determine whether relief is warranted.
The rules of equity are built on a series of legal maxims, which serve as broad statements of principle, the truth and reasonableness of which are self-evident. The basis of equity is contained in the Maxim "Equity will not suffer an injustice." Other maxims present reasons for not granting equitable relief. Laches is one such defense.
Laches is based on the legal maxim "Equity aids the vigilant, not those who slumber on their rights." Laches recognizes that a party to an action can lose evidence, witnesses, and a fair chance to defend himself or herself after the passage of time from the date the wrong was committed. If the defendant can show disadvantages because for a long time he or she relied on the fact that no lawsuit would be started, then the case should be dismissed in the interests of justice.
The law encourages a speedy resolution for every dispute. Cases in law are governed by statutes of limitations, which are laws that determine how long a person has to file a lawsuit before the right to sue expires. Different types of injuries (e.g., tort and contract) have different time periods in which to file a lawsuit. Laches is the equitable equivalent of statutes of limitations. However, unlike statutes of limitations, laches leaves it up to the court to determine, based on the unique facts of the case, whether a plaintiff has waited too long to seek relief.
Real estate boundary disputes are resolved in equity and may involve laches. For instance, if a person starts to build a garage that extends beyond the boundary line and into a neighbor's property, and the neighbor immediately files a suit in equity and asks the court to issue an injunction to stop the construction, the neighbor will likely prevail. On the other hand, if the neighbor observes the construction of the garage on her property and does not file suit until the garage is completed, the defendant may plead laches, arguing that the neighbor had ample time to protect her property rights before the construction was completed, and the court may find it unfair to order that the garage be torn down.
The laches defense, like most of equity law, is a general concept containing many variations on the maxim. Phrases used to describe laches include "delay that works to the disadvantage of another," "inexcusable delay coupled with prejudice to the party raising the defense," "failure to assert rights," "lack of diligence," and "neglect or omission to assert a right."
n. the legal doctrine that a legal right or claim will not be enforced or allowed if a long delay in asserting the right or claim has prejudiced the adverse party (hurt the opponent) as a sort of "legal ambush." Examples: knowing the correct property line, Oliver Owner fails to bring a lawsuit to establish title to a portion of real estate until Nat Neighbor has built a house which encroaches on the property in which Owner has title; Tommy Traveler learns that his father has died, but waits four years to come forward until the entire estate has been distributed on the belief that Tommy was dead; Susan Smart has a legitimate claim against her old firm for sexual harassment, but waits three years to come forward and file a lawsuit, after the employee who caused the problem has died, and the witnesses have all left the company and scattered around the country. The defense of laches is often raised in the list of "affirmative defenses" in answers filed by defendants, but is seldom applied by the courts. Laches is not to be confused with the "statute of limitations" which sets specific periods to file a lawsuit for types of claims (negligence, breach of contract, fraud, etc.).
lachesbased on the Latin maxim vigilantibus non dormientibus jura subveniunt (‘the law serves the vigilant, not those who sleep’), a defence of an equitable claim based on the length of time the plaintiff has allowed to elapse before commencing proceedings.
LACHES. This word, derived from the French lecher, is nearly synonymous with
2. In general, when a party has been guilty of laches in enforcing his right by great delay and lapse of time, this circumstance will at common law prejudice, and sometimes operate in bar of a remedy which it is discretionary and not compulsory in the court to afford. In courts of equity, also delay will generally prejudice. 1 Chit. Pr. 786, and the cases there cited; 8 Com. Dig. 684; 6 Johns. Ch. R. 360.
3. But laches may be excused from, ignorance of the party's rights; 2 Mer. R. 362; 2 Ball & Beat. 104; from the obscurity of the transaction; 2 Sch. & Lef. 487; by the pendancy of a suit; 1 Sch. & Lef. 413; and where the party labors under a legal disability, as insanity, coverture, infancy, and the like. And no laches can be imputed to the public. 4 Mass. Rep. 522; 3 Serg. & Rawle, 291; 4 Hen. & Munf. 57; 1 Penna. R. 476. Vide 1 Supp. to Ves. Jr. 436; 2 Id. 170; Dane's Ab. Index, h.t.; 4 Bouv. Inst. n. 3911.