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.
The elements which constitute laches are (1) unexplained delay for an unreasonable time; and (2) prejudice to the adversary party or to third parties which will be occasioned by such delay if equitable relief is allowed. It is difficult to consider these elements separately. On the one hand an unexplained and unreasonable delay is an essential element of laches. If the plaintiff acts promptly no laches exists. Hence lapse of time in enforcing a trust which the trustee has not repudiated is not laches.1 On the other hand, lapse of time is not of itself laches if the party against whom relief is sought is not prejudiced by the delay.2 Thus delay in pushing a suit against an indorser whereby he is benefited, inasmuch as the party primarily liable is induced to make payments upon the debt, is not laches.3 Delay for a long period of time, if unexplained, may amount to laches prima facie.4. If properly explained, however, delay even for a long period does not amount to laches.5 The effect of the statute of limitations upon the doctrine of laches depends on the extent to which such statute is treated as either binding on courts of equity or merely an analogy which in proper cases courts of equity will follow. In some jurisdictions limitations applies to suits at equity,6 and is subject to the same exceptions as those recognized at law.7 In such jurisdictions the doctrine of laches does not apply in cases of concurrent jurisdiction.8 Delay short of the period of limitations is no bar in equity.9 In other jurisdictions the doctrine of laches is invoked irrespective of the statute of limitations.10 Equity may, therefore, refuse relief, though the time fixed by the statute of limitations has not expired.11 Delay not exceeding the statutory period of limitations does not necessarily amount to laches,12 though special facts may make laches exist within a period shorter than that of limitations.13 The period of limitations is in the absence of controlling facts to the contrary taken as an analogy. In case of delay beyond the statutory period of limitations the party seeking relief must, in order to obtain it, show facts excusing such delay.14
4 Hendry v. Benlisa, 37 Fla. 609; 34 L. R. A. 283; 20 So. 800.
1 Reynolds v. Sumner, 126 111.58; 9 Am. St. Rep. 523; 1 L. R. A. 327; 18 N. E. 334.
2 Merrill v. Bank, 173 U. S. 131; Johnson v. Transit Co., 156 U. S. 618; Citizens' National Bank v. Judy, 146 Ind. 322; 43 N. E. 259; Luke v. Koenen, 120 la. 103; 94 N. W. 278; City of Leavenworth v. Douglass, 59 Kan. 416; 53 Pac. 123; Hamilton v. Dooly, 15 Utah 280; 49 Pac. 769; Pethtei v. McCullough, 49
W. Va. 520; 39 S. E. 199; Cedar Lake Hotel Co. v. Hydraulic Co., 79 Wis. 297; 48 N. W. 371.
3 Tidball's Executors v. Bank. 100 Va. 741; 42 S. E. 867.
4 Willard v. Wood, 164 U. S. 502; Chapman v. Bank, 97 Cal. 155; 31 Pac. 896; Snow v. Mfg. Co., 153 Mass. 456; 26 N. E. 1116; Wain-wright v. Massenburg. 129 N. C. 46; 39 S. E. 725. (Delay for fifty years.)
5 Nelson v. Carrington, 4 Munf. (Va.) 332; 6 Am. Dec. 519.
6 Sioux City, etc., Ry. v. O'Brien County, 118 la. 582; 92 N. W. 857.
7 Newberger v. Wells, 51 W. Va. 624; 42 S. E. 625.
8 Higgins, etc., Co. v. Snow, 113 Fed. 433; 51 C. C. A. 267.
9 Ludington v. Patton, 111 Wis 208; 86 N. W. 571.
10 Guarantee, etc., Co. v. Pine-Land Co., 104 Fed. 5; 43 C. C. A. 396; Patterson v. Hewitt, - N. M. -; 55 L. P.. A. 658; 66 Pac. 552.
11 Sena v. United States, 189 U. S. 233; Potts v. Alexander, 118 Fed. 885; Great Western Mining Co. v. Mining Co., 14 Colo. 90; 23 Pac. 908; Phillips v. Rogers, 12 Met. (Mass.) 405; Peters v. Delaplaine, 49 N. Y. 362; Wilson v. Wilson, 41 Or. 459; 69 Pac. 923; Wilson v.
Harper, 25 W. Va. 279. "Equity will sometimes refuse relief where a shorter time than that prescribed by the statute of limitations has elapsed without suit. It ought always to do so where, as in this case, the delay in the assertion of rights is not adequately explained and such circumstances have intervened in the condition of the adverse party as to render it unjust to him or to his estate that a court of equity should assist the plaintiff." Whitney v. Fox, 166 U. S. 637, 647.
12 Michigan Trust Co. v. Red Cloud (Neb.), 92 N. W. 900.
13 Ide v. Carpet Co., 115 Fed. 137.
14 Boynton v. Haggart, 120 Fed. 819.