This section is from the book "The Law Of Contracts", by William Herbert Page. Also available from Amazon: Commercial Contracts: A Practical Guide to Deals, Contracts, Agreements and Promises.
If the statute of limitations is so worded as to apply to actions at law, it does not uniformly restrict the power of the courts of equity to administer equitable relief,1 and such relief may in proper cases be granted after the time fixed by limitations has elapsed,2 "for the reason that the words of the statute apply only to particular legal remedies."3 In such cases the effect of limitations upon equitable jurisdiction turns on the question whether the jurisdiction of equity is exclusive or concurrent. If the jurisdiction of equity is exclusive the statute of limitations is not binding upon courts of equity if it purports to apply only to actions at law.4 Equity will, however, in the absence of exceptional facts, treat the statutes of limitations as a legal analogy,5 which, though not binding upon them, they will follow.6 If the jurisdiction of equity is concurrent with that of law, the statute of limitations is looked upon as binding upon courts of equity.7 Thus if a debt enforceable at law is created by the trustee for the benefit of the trust estate, and in equity can be enforced against such estate, such right in equity is barred when the right of action at law on the debt would be barred.8 So a cause of action for fraud9 or for conversion10 is barred in equity when it is barred at law. If the law gives two legal remedies, which are barred at different intervals of time, a concurrent equitable remedy is not barred until both legal remedies are barred.11 Thus if at law the mortgagee has two remedies, one on the debt for a personal judgment and one on the mortgage to recover the land, the equitable remedy of foreclosure is not barred until both legal remedies are barred.12 In some states, however, statutes of limitation are so worded as to include equitable suits as well as legal actions. Among these states are those in which the Code of Civil Procedure has been adopted. Where such statutes are in force no question exists as to their effect on suits in equity.
1 Presley v. Weakley, 135 Ala. 517; 93 Am. St. Rep. 39; 33 So. 434.
2 Michoud v. Girod, 4 How. (U. S.) 503; Belknap v. Gleason, 11 Conn. 160; 27 Am. Dee. 721; Lin-coin v. Judd, 49 N. J. Eq. 387; 24 Atl. 318; McLain v. Ferrell, 1 Swan (Tenn.) 48.
3 Colton v. Depew, 60 N. J. Eq. 454, 458; 83 Am. St. Rep. 650; 46 Atl. 728.
4 McKnight v. Taylor, 1 How. (U. S.) 161; Presley v. Weakley, 135 Ala. 517; 93 Am. St. Rep. 39; 33 So. 434; Locke v. Caldwell, 91 111. 417; Gates v. Jacob, 1 B. Mon. (Ky.)
306; McLain v. Ferrell, 1 Swai (Tenn.) 48.
5 " The statute is an expression o/ public policy and as such is proper to be looked to by courts of equity in determining the proper limit of time to be ordinarily allowed." Presley v. Weakley, 135 Ala. 517, 521; 93 Am. St. Rep. 39; 33 So. 434.
6 Sullivan v. Ry., 94 U. S. 806; Presley v. Weakley, 135 Ala. 517; 93 Am. St. Rep. 39; 33 So. 434; Taylor v. Campbell, 59 Tex. 315; Switzer v. Nott'singer, 82 Va. 518; Wheeling v. Campbell, 12 W. Va. 36.