The Clean Hands Doctrine, also called unclean hands, is a defense to a claim for equitable relief, typically an injunction or specific performance. Under this doctrine, 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. Since this is an affirmative defense, the defendant has the burden to prove that the plaintiff is not acting in good faith, or that the plaintiff’s hands are unclean. The doctrine is sometimes stated as those seeking equity must do equity.
There is no specific definition for what constitutes unclean hands. If a party does not deserve a remedy because he is not merely an innocent party injured by a guilty party, he will be found to have unclean hands. What is sufficient to establish this, however, will depend upon the specific court and jurisdiction you are in, and a lawyer experienced in contract law can help you determine this.
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 because 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.
The law regarding contracts and contractual relations can be very confusing. An experienced business 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.