When Does the Doctrine of Laches Bar a Legal Claim?
Arizona, like most states, has adopted statutes of limitation that bar parties from bringing claims based upon the passage of time since the claim arose. These limitations periods range from a few months to a decade or more, and are set forth in the Arizona Code. In many situations parties are aware of the limitations period and deliberately wait until shortly after it expires before filing suit. In such situations, however, parties and their attorneys should consider how the doctrine of laches might affect their claims.
The doctrine of laches, as described by the Arizona Court of Appeals, is an “inexcusable delay in asserting a right during a period of time in which negative rights have been acquired under circumstances that make it inequitable to displace such negative rights for the assistance of those who are bound by the delay.” In other words, laches arises where a party delays making his or her claim in such a way that another party is unfairly prejudiced. Laches is the equitable style to the statute of limitations that bars a claim when the delay is unreasonable and the consequence of the delay is prejudice to the opposing party.
Of course, laches does not apply in every case where there is some delay in bringing the claim. Indeed, if the doctrine were applied too liberally, it would effectively render the statutes of limitations meaningless. But that is not the case.
The Arizona Supreme Court has determined that “laches may not be imputed to a party for insignificant delay in the assertion of a claim.” Instead, the Courts require a showing that the delay was “unreasonable under the circumstances” and that any change in circumstances caused by the delay has resulted in prejudice to the other party sufficient to justify denial of relief.
In sum, the fact that a claim is brought within the statute of limitations does not average it is timely for purposes of laches. In the event you believe you have a meritorious legal claim against another party, you should seek the sets of an experienced Arizona litigation attorney as soon as possible in order to preserve your claim and ensure you are not barred from bringing the claim pursuant to an applicable Arizona statute of limitations or the Arizona doctrine of laches.