Clean Hands Doctrine

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What Is the Clean Hands Doctrine?

The Clean Hands Doctrine, also called unclean hands, is a defense to a claim for equitable relief, typically an injunction or specific performance.  A defendant can argue that the plaintiff has no grounds to obtain relief because he has acted unethically or in bad faith with respect to the subject of the complaint.  The defendant has the burden to prove that the plaintif is not acting in good faith, or that his hands are unclean.  The doctrine is sometimes stated as those seeking equity must do equity.

What Is Needed to Establish Unclean Hands?

There is no specific definition for what constitutes unclean hands.  If a party does not deserve a remedy because he is not an innocent injured by a guilty party, he will be found to have unclean hands.  What is sufficent to establish this however will depend upon the specific court and jurisdiction you are in and an experience attorney can help you determine this.

Can I Bring Suit for a Violation of the Clean Hands Doctrine?

Generally, the clean hands doctrine is a defense, although a plaintiff seeking an equitable remedy could bring it up to prevent the defendant from raising another equitable defense.  The doctrine does not apply to cases seeking damages, it is only used in equitable remedy situations.  However, in many situations a person who has acted with unclean hands will have acted in bad faith which will be a violation of the good faith and fair dealing condition implied in contracts.  If this is the case, the other party will often be able to bring suit for a breach of contract based on a violation of good faith and be able to recover damages.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

The law regarding contracts and contractual relations can be very confusing.  An experienced contract attorney can help you determine your rights and obligations under a contract.  If someone has brought a claim against you, a lawyer can advise you of your possible defenses, including unclean hands.  A lawyer can also represent you in court if needed.

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Last Modified: 08-30-2011 03:42 PM PDT

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