Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lawyer lingo: What is laches?

Laches is an equitable remedy akin to estoppel that requires a showing that the party asserting a claim has unreasonably delayed the assertion of that claim and, due to that delay, the opposing party has made a good faith change of position to his or her detriment. See City of Fort Worth v. Johnson, 388 S.W.2d 400, 403 (Tex. 1964); In re Laibe Corporation, 307 S.W.3d 314, 318 (Tex. 2010).
However, in its sovereign capacity, the State, unlike ordinary litigants, is not subject to the defense of laches. State v. Durham, 860 S.W.2d 63, 67 (Tex. 1993). 

SOURCE: Amarillo Court of Appeals - 07-10-0464-CV - 6/14/11
In re Laibe Corp., 307 S.W.3d 314 (Tex. 2010) Issuance of mandamus relief "is largely controlled by equitable principles," and equity "`aids the diligent and not those who slumber on their rights.'" Rivercenter Assocs. v. Rivera, 858 S.W.2d 366, 367 (Tex.1993) (quoting Callahan v. Giles, 137 Tex. 571, 155 S.W.2d 793, 795 (1941)). To invoke the equitable doctrine of laches, the moving party ordinarily must show an unreasonable delay by the opposing party in asserting it rights, and also the moving party's good faith and detrimental change in position because of the delay. Rogers v. Ricane Enters., Inc., 772 S.W.2d 76, 80 (Tex.1989). Jackson Drilling has not demonstrated a detrimental change in position between the time the motion for reconsideration was denied in the trial court and the filing of the mandamus petition in the court of appeals. See In re E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., 92 S.W.3d 517, 524 (Tex.2002) (orig. proceeding) (rejecting argument that unreasonable delay barred mandamus relief, in part because "plaintiffs have failed to show how the delay has prejudiced them in any way"). Accordingly, without hearing oral argument, see TEX.R.APP. P. 52.8(c), we conditionally grant mandamus relief and direct the trial court to grant Laibe's motion to dismiss. We are confident that the court will comply, and the writ will issue only if it does not.
Laches is an affirmative defense; therefore, the party asserting it has the burden of proving its essential elements. City of Fort Worth v. Johnson, 388 S.W.2d 400, 403 (Tex. 1964). Texas courts have recognized that "[t]he defense of laches is akin to that of estoppel". Id. Accordingly, Appellants must prove: "(1) unreasonable delay by one having legal or equitable rights in asserting them, and (2) a good faith change of position by another to his detriment because of the delay". Id. The City maintains that laches is inapplicable to a governmental entity. The Texas Supreme Court has "long held that a city cannot be estopped from exercising its governmental functions". City of White Settlement v. Super Wash, Inc., 198 S.W.3d 770, 773 (Tex. 2006). One important reason for this rule "is that barring estoppel helps preserve separation of powers; legislative prerogative would be undermined if a government agent could—through mistake, neglect, or an intentional act— effectively repeal a law by ignoring, misrepresenting, or misinterpreting a duly enacted statute or regulation". Id. (citing Office of Personnel Mgmt. v. Richmond, 496 U.S. 414, 428 (1990)). A narrow exception exists, however, "where justice requires [the application of equitable estoppel], and there is no interference with the exercise of [the City's] governmental functions". City of Hutchins v. Prasifka, 450 S.W.2d 829, 836 (Tex. 1970). In such instances, the doctrine of estoppel "is applied with caution and only in exceptional cases where the circumstances clearly demand its application to prevent manifest injustice". Id. In Texas, "[t]he court, not the jury, determines whether the exception applies". Super Wash, 198 S.W.3d at 774. The Texas Supreme Court clarified recently that the exception is limited to instances where "city officials may have affirmatively misled the parties seeking to estop the city and . . . the misleading statements resulted in the permanent loss of their claims against the cities". Id. at 775. In short, the defense may be allow ed where justice requires estoppel and the party asserting the defense would otherwise be without a remedy. Id.
RELATED LEGAL CONCEPTS: equitable estoppel, unreasonable delay, lack of diligence, failure to prosecute

No comments:

Post a Comment