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.
Independent of the statutes of limitations and in cases to which for the most part such statutes could not apply, equity has developed the doctrine of laches as a bar to a suit in equity.1 The theory of laches is not that lapse of time alone is a bar, for, as has been stated elsewhere, lapse of time is not of itself a bar in equity in the absence of express statute. The underlying theory is, without reference to the amount of time which has elapsed,2 that if the injured party has full knowledge of the facts and is in no way prevented or hindered from bringing suit, but instead of suing in a reasonable time waits until circumstances intervene either in the condition of the adverse party, the nature and value of the property, the evidence available to the adversary party, or the rights of third persons, which make it inequitable to allow relief, equity will refuse relief.3 Laches is ordinarily merely a defense. In some exceptional cases, however, it may be the basis of affirmative relief. Thus A agreed to buy land from B and gave notes therefor. Judgment was subsequently taken on such notes, but the judgments were never paid. Years after, when the land had risen in value greatly and A had become insolvent, it was held that B's administrator could have such contract cancelled, since A, by reason of his laches, had lost the right to specific performance.4
7 Baker v. Cummings, 169 U. S. 189; Metropolitan Bank v. Dispatch Co., 149 U. S. 436; Miller v. M'Intyre, 6 Pet. (U. S.) 61; Harding v. Durand, 138 111. 515; 28 N. E. 948; Waller v. Demint, 1 Dana (Ky.) 92; 25 Am. Dec. 134; Gutch v. Fosdick, 48 X. J. Eq. 353; 27 Am. St. Rep. 473; 22 Atl. 590; Yearly v. Long, 40 0. S. 27; Hughes v. Brown, 88 Tenn. 578; 8 L. R. A. 480; 13 S. W. 286; Smith v. Fly, 24 Tex. 345; 76 Am. Dec. 109; Drumright v. Hite, 2 Va. Dec. 465; 26 S. E. 583; Sibley v. Stacey, 53 W. Va. 292; 44 S. E. 420. " Courts of equity in cases of concurrent jurisdiction consider themselves bound by the statutes of limitation which govern actions at law." Syllabus in Metropolitan Bank v. Dispatch Co., 149 U. S. 436; quoted in Baker v. Cummings, 169 U. S. 189, 206.
8 Hughes v. Brown, 88 Tenn. 578; 8 L. R. A. 480; 13 S. W. 286.
9 Baker v. Cummings, 169 U. S. 189.
10 Metropolitan Bank v. Dispatch Co., 149 U. S. 436.
11 Colton v. Depew, 60 N. J. Eq. 454; 83 Am. St. Rep. 650; 46 Atl. 728; Burdoin v. Shelton, 10 Yerg. (Tenn.) 41.
12 Colton v. Depew, 60 N. J. Eq. 454; 83 Am. St. Rep. 650; 46 Atl, 728.
1 " There is a defense peculiar to courts of equity founded on lapse of time and the staleness of the claim where no statute of limitations directly governs the case. In such cases courts of equity often act upon their own inherent doctrine of discouraging, for the peace of society, antiquated demands, by refusing to interfere where there has been gross laches in prosecuting rights or long acquiescence in the assertion of adverse rights." Wagner v. Baird, 7 How. (U. S.) 234, 258; quoted in Abraham v. Ordway, 158 U. S. 416, 422. See for similar language Hammond v. Hopkins, 143 U. S. 224; Patterson v. Hewitt. - N. M. -; 55 L. R. A. 658; 66 Pac. 552.
2 " Laches is not, like limitation, a mere matter of time; but principally a question of the inequity of permitting the claim to be enforced - an inequity founded upon some change in the condition or relations of the property or the parties." Gal-liher v. Cadwell, 145 U. S. 368. 373: quoted in Penn Mutual Life Ins.
Co. v. Austin, 168 U. S. 685, 699. 3 United States v. Martinez, 184 U. S. 441; Whitney v. Fox, 166 U. S. 637; Willard v. Wood, 164 U. S. 502; Hammond v. Hopkins, 143 U. S. 224; Speidel v. Henrici, 120 U. S. 377; Potts v. Alexander, 118 Fed. 885; Bell v. Hudson, 73 Cal. 285; 2 Am. St. Rep. 791; 14 Pac. 791; Lux v. Haggin. 69 Cal. 255; 10 Pac. 674; Hendry v. Benlisa, 37 Fla. 639; 34 L. R. A. 283; 20 So. 800; Wilcoxon v. Wilcoxon, 199 111. 244; 65 N. E. 229; Walker v. Ray, 111 111. 315; Kirby v. Jacobs, 13 B. Mon. (Ky.) 435; Aver v. Stewart, 14 Minn. 97; He Graw v. Mechan, 48 N. J. Eq. 219; 21 Atl. 193; Patterson v. Hewitt, - N. M. - ; 55 L. R. A. 658; 66 Pac. 552; Wilson v. Wilson, 41 Or. 459; 69 Pac. 923; In re Wehrle's Estate, 205 Pa. St. 62; 54 Atl. 511; Phillips v. Yon. 61 S. C. 426; 39 S. E. 618; Doggett v. Helm, 17 Gratt. (Va.) 90; Philli - v. Coke Co.. 53 W. Va. 543; 44 S. E. 774; Ohio Liver Ry. Co. v. Johnson, 50 W. Va. 499: 40 S. E. 407.