Statutory Interpretation, Judicial Discretion, and Equitable Defenses
Equitable defenses were given up for dead after eBay v. MercExchange. But they have been resurrected. The Supreme Court is raising the dead in recent decisions. It is integrating these judge-made doctrines into federal law despite their omission from the language of the legislation. The fusion of equitable defenses into federal statutes is important because it allows judges discretion to vary statutory outcomes on a case-by-case basis. As a result, an assortment of indeterminate defenses may stand in the way of remedying statutory violations.
The Supreme Court’s approach to equity exerts a decisive influence on legislative developments. There is considerable controversy surrounding the judicial use of equitable principles to deny statutory relief. Of equal concern is that courts engage in interest balancing or policy-making that may appear inconsistent with the federal judicial role. Also questionable is whether these elusive concepts can be adequately contained and comprehensible. Scholars have trained a precise lens on the issues of judicial authority and institutional competence involving statutory remedies. A corollary concern—one so intuitive we lose sight of it—is equitable defenses. The Court has yet to account for the recognition of equitable defenses that forfeit congressionally-created causes of action.
This Article begins to outline an approach to the interaction between written statutes and unwritten equitable defenses. Concentrating on Supreme Court cases, it examines the decisional law of eight defenses across almost as many statutory subjects over the last two centuries. The Article exposes an equity-protective principle of interpretation that favors these ancient doctrines in modern Supreme Court practice. It also identifies possible bases for this assumption. It additionally responds to potential objections to this default rule that approves equitable defenses in legislation that does not directly provide for them. Taken as a whole, the Article explains and defends the recognition of equitable defenses in statutory law.
How to Cite
Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
- The Author retains copyright in the Work, where the term “Work” shall include all digital objects that may result in subsequent electronic publication or distribution.
- Upon acceptance of the Work, the author shall grant to the Publisher the right of first publication of the Work.
- The Author shall grant to the Publisher and its agents the nonexclusive perpetual right and license to publish, archive, and make accessible the Work in whole or in part in all forms of media now or hereafter known under a Creative Commons 4.0 License (Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works), or its equivalent, which, for the avoidance of doubt, allows others to copy, distribute, and transmit the Work under the following conditions:
- Attribution—other users must attribute the Work in the manner specified by the author as indicated on the journal Web site;
- Noncommercial—other users (including Publisher) may not use this Work for commercial purposes;
- No Derivative Works—other users (including Publisher) may not alter, transform, or build upon this Work,with the understanding that any of the above conditions can be waived with permission from the Author and that where the Work or any of its elements is in the public domain under applicable law, that status is in no way affected by the license.
- The Author is able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the nonexclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the Work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), as long as there is provided in the document an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are permitted and encouraged to post online a pre-publication manuscript (but not the Publisher’s final formatted PDF version of the Work) in institutional repositories or on their Websites prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work. Any such posting made before acceptance and publication of the Work shall be updated upon publication to include a reference to the Publisher-assigned DOI (Digital Object Identifier) and a link to the online abstract for the final published Work in the Journal.
- Upon Publisher’s request, the Author agrees to furnish promptly to Publisher, at the Author’s own expense, written evidence of the permissions, licenses, and consents for use of third-party material included within the Work, except as determined by Publisher to be covered by the principles of Fair Use.
- The Author represents and warrants that:
- the Work is the Author’s original work;
- the Author has not transferred, and will not transfer, exclusive rights in the Work to any third party;
- the Work is not pending review or under consideration by another publisher;
- the Work has not previously been published;
- the Work contains no misrepresentation or infringement of the Work or property of other authors or third parties; and
- the Work contains no libel, invasion of privacy, or other unlawful matter.
- The Author agrees to indemnify and hold Publisher harmless from Author’s breach of the representations and warranties contained in Paragraph 6 above, as well as any claim or proceeding relating to Publisher’s use and publication of any content contained in the Work, including third-party content.