Before You Sue, Make Sure Your Hands are Clean

No, the Blog title does not mean you need to take extra care scrubbing your hands before going to Court, though we do recommend Hand Sanitizer after going through Court Security.   This is about the legal concept of “Clean Hands”.

When I took my first college course on litigation well over a decade ago, one of the first doctrines we learned about was the doctrine of “clean hands.”  What does that mean?   The doctrine of clean hands, in a nutshell, is a defense that bars relief to a party who has engaged in bad behavior relating to the subject matter of their claim.

I was recently involved in a matter where our client was sued for failing to remove a payment on the date outlined in the contract, resulting in the plaintiff’s account being charged NSF fees.

They sued for what they claimed was irreparable harm to their credit, which was never established.

I argued (successfully) that the plaintiff is not entitled to damages resulting in the NSF charges, because the attempt to withdraw any payment was after the date it was due, and if the payment did not come out on the date it was supposed to, a reasonable person would simply leave the money in their account until it came did.  I suggested that the money was never in the account in the first place, and what caused the plaintiff’s damages was their failure to ensure the payment was in their account.

I argued that the plaintiff did not come to court with “clean hands” because the NSFs were not caused by our client attempting to withdraw the payment on a date other than what was in the contract, but because of the plaintiff not having the funds in the account in the first place, which resulted in any alleged irreparable harm to their credit.

The plaintiff failed to take responsibility for their actions, and the Court was not sympathetic to them.

It is important to be mindful of your actions before proceeding to Court to make sure that you come to Court with clean hands to ensure your actions won’t be used against you.

Murray Brown, Licensed Paralegal