Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Laches Definition:

An allegation that a legal right is stale under the circumstances and no longer able to support enforcement.

Related Terms: Acquiescence, Estoppel, Vigilantibus Et Non Dormientibus Jura Subveniunt, Limitations or Statute of Limitations

A legal doctrine whereby those who take too long to assert a legal right, lose their entitlement to compensation.

When you claim that a person's legal suit against you is not valid because of this, you would call it estoppel by laches.

Sand clock

The pivotal case on the doctrine of laches is an 1874 British case, Lindsay Petroleum Co. in which the Court stated:

"(T)he doctrine of laches in Courts of Equity is not an arbitrary or a technical doctrine. Where it would be practically unjust to give a remedy, either because the party has, by his conduct, done that which might fairly be regarded as equivalent to a waiver of it, or where by his conduct and neglect he has, though perhaps not waiving that remedy, yet put the other party in a situation in which it would not be reasonable to place him if the remedy were afterwards to be asserted, in either of these cases, lapse of time and delay are most material.

"But in every case, if an argument against relief, which otherwise would be just, is founded upon mere delay, that delay of course not amounting to a bar by any statute of limitations, the validity of that defence must be tried upon principles substantially equitable.

"Two circumstances, always important in such cases, are, the length of the delay and the nature of the acts done during the interval, which might affect either party and cause a balance of justice or injustice in taking the one course or the other, so far as relates to the remedy."

This was quoted with approval in Canada's Supreme Court in MK v MH.

In a more recent Ontario case, Cosentino v Roiatti, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice used these words:

"(A) defendant can successfully resist an equitable claim made against him if he can demonstrate that the plaintiff, by delaying the institution or prosecution of his case, has either acquiesced in the defendant’s conduct, caused the defendant to alter his position in reasonable reliance of the plaintiff’s acceptance of the status quo, or otherwise permitted a situation to arise which would be unjust to disturb."

"Ultimately, laches must be resolved as a matter of justice between the parties, as is the case with any equitable doctrine."



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