Samuel Bray, ‘A Little Bit of Laches Goes a Long Way: Notes on Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc

This essay considers two questions about how laches fits into contemporary American law. One is whether it applies to all remedies or only to equitable remedies. The other is how it is affected by a federal statute of limitations. Is laches displaced, on the theory that Congress has spoken by enacting the statute of limitations, and that it would violate separation of powers for a court to substitute its own equitable doctrines? Or does laches remain and coexist with the statute of limitations, on the theory that Congress legislates against the background of traditional equitable principles? These questions are squarely raised by Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., a pending case in the U.S. Supreme Court.

After examining the doctrine, history, and theory of laches, this essay reaches two conclusions. First, laches is and should be limited to equitable remedies. Second, the defense of laches is available unless Congress makes a clear statement abrogating it, and the mere enactment of a statute of limitations is not a clear statement of abrogation. Given these conclusions, the Court should take a middle course in Petrella: Retain laches, but apply it only to equitable remedies.

Bray, Samuel L., A Little Bit of Laches Goes a Long Way: Notes on Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. (January 8, 2014). Vanderbilt Law Review En Banc (forthcoming January 2014); UCLA School of Law, Law-Econ Research Paper Forthcoming; UCLA School of Law Research Paper, Forthcoming.

First posted 2014-01-09 08:14:43

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