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Unclean Hands

This is a lesson on the equitable defense of unclean hands. The first part of the lesson is designed to introduce the basics of the concept for students before and during its study in class. The "Review" questions at the end are an aide for students who have completed their study, either through class work or this lesson. Students who want simply to review in anticipation of a final exam can go straight to the Review materials and backtrack only as necessary for understanding questions missed.

Unclean hands is one of the "conscience defenses" in equity. The conscience defenses act to bar equitable suitors whose claims are in some way morally tainted even if they are legally sound. Thus, a suitor cannot receive equitable relief if the equitable defense applies even though legal relief may still be available. Other conscience defenses include laches, estoppel, and unconscionability, which are not covered in this lesson.

Learning Outcomes

On completion of the lesson, the student will be able to:
1. Explain the analytical framework of the unclean hands defense.
2. Discuss the type of misconduct that must exist for the defense to apply.
3. Analyze the issues of whether the misconduct relates to the acquisition of the right being asserted.
4. Define collateral wrongdoing.
5. List exceptions to unclean hands defense.

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