Laches

Laches refers to an important legal doctrine whereby people who take too long to assert their legal right, will lose their right to compensation.

Additional Sources

Answers.com

A legal doctrine that bars a claimant from receiving relief where the claimant's delay in pursuing the claim has operated to the prejudice of the opposing party.

Duhaime Legal Dictionary

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.

Law.com Dictionary

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: a) 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; b) 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; c) 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.).

Lawyers.com

1 : undue delay in asserting a right or privilege

2 a : a doctrine permitting dismissal of a suit because a plaintiff's unreasonable delay in asserting a right or privilege has been detrimental to the defendant's ability to make a defense b : an affirmative defense based on this doctrine

Lect Law Library

Based on the maxim that equity aids the vigilant and not those who procrastinate regarding their rights; Neglect to assert a right or claim that, together with lapse of time and other circumstances, prejudices an adverse party. Neglecting to do what should or could, have been done to assert a claim or right for an unreasonable and unjustified time causing disadvantage to another.

Laches is similar to 'statute of limitations' except is equitable rather than statutory and is a common affirmative defense raised in civil actions.

Laches is derived from the French 'lecher' and is nearly synonymous with negligence.

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 is discretionary for the court to afford. In courts of equity delay will also generally be prejudicial.

But laches may be excused from ignorance of the party's rights; from the obscurity of the transaction; by the pendency of a suit, and; where the party labors under a legal disability, as insanity, infancy and the like.

Legal-Dictionary.org

Failure to assert a claim within a reasonable time period and negligence in failing to assert the claim.

The Free (Legal) Dictionary

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.

Wikipedia

Laches (f. French, lachesse, laches) is an equitable defense, or doctrine. The person invoking laches is asserting that an opposing party has "slept on its rights," and that, as a result of this delay, that other party is no longer entitled to its original claim. Put another way, failure to assert one’s rights in a timely manner can result in a claim's being barred by laches. Laches is a form of estoppel for delay. In Latin,

Vigilantibus non dormientibus quitas subvenit. Equity aids the vigilant, not the sleeping ones (that is, those who sleep on their rights). In most contexts, an essential element of laches is the requirement that the party invoking the doctrine has changed its position as a result of the delay. In other words, the defendant is in a worse position now than at the time the claim should have been brought. For example, the delay in asserting the claim may have caused a great increase in the potential damages to be awarded, or assets that could earlier have been used to satisfy the claim may have been distributed in the meantime, or the property in question may already have been sold, or evidence or testimony may no longer be available to defend against the claim.

A defense lawyer raising the defense of laches against a motion for injunctive relief (a form of equitable relief) might argue that the plaintiff comes "waltzing in at the eleventh hour" when it is now too late to grant the relief sought, at least not without causing great harm that the plaintiff could have avoided. In certain types of cases (for example, cases involving time-sensitive matters, such as elections), a delay of even a few days is likely to be met with a defense of laches, even where the applicable statute of limitations might allow the type of action to be commenced within a much longer time period.

A successful defense of laches will find the court denying the request for equitable relief. However, even if equitable relief is not available, the party may still have an action at law if the statute of limitations has not run out.

Under the United States Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, laches is an affirmative defense, which means that the burden of asserting laches is on the party responding to the claim to which it applies. “When the defense of laches is clear on the face of the complaint, and where it is clear that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts to avoid the insuperable bar, a court may consider the defense on a motion to dismiss.” Solow v. Nine West Group, 2001 WL 736794, *3 (S.D.N.Y. June 29, 2001); Simons v. United States, 452 F.2d 1110, 1116 (2d Cir. 1971) (affirming Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal based, in part, on laches where papers “reveal no reason for the inordinate and prejudicial delay”)