Difference Between Unclean Hands and ''Do Equity'' Doctrine
The "do equity" doctrine differs from that of unclean hands ("One who comes into equity must come with clean hands").
Unclean hands, unlike "do equity," requires inequitable conduct by the plaintiff in connection with the matter in controversy and provides a complete defense to the plaintiff's action. (2 Pomeroy, Equity Jurisprudence, supra, 397, p. 91; see DeGarmo v. Goldman (1942) 19 Cal. 2d 755, 765 123 P.2d 1.)
The DeGarmo court explained this distinction.
It stated that the doctrine of unclean hands "differs from the maxim 'he who seeks equity must do equity' in that the latter assumes that different equitable rights have arisen from the same subject matter or transaction, some in favor of plaintiff and some in favor of the defendant so that the plaintiff is required to recognize and provide for defendant's rights and his relief is granted only upon a showing that defendant's rights are protected." (DeGarmo v. Goldman, supra, 19 Cal. 2d at p. 765.)
The full discussion of this distinction by Pomeroy is also instructive:
"In applying the 'do equity' maxim, He who seeks equity must do equity, as a general rule regulating the action of courts, it is necessarily assumed that different equitable rights have arisen from the same subject-matter or transaction, some in favor of the plaintiff and some of the defendant; and the maxim requires that the court should, as the price or condition of its enforcing the plaintiff's equity and conferring a remedy upon him, compel him to recognize, admit, and provide for the corresponding equity of the defendant, and award to him also the proper relief.
The maxim does not assume that the plaintiff has done anything unconscientious or inequitable; much less does it refuse to him all relief; on the contrary, it grants to him the remedy to which he is entitled, but upon condition that the defendant's equitable rights are protected by means of the remedy to which he is entitled.
On the other hand, the maxim now under consideration, He who comes into equity must come with clean hands, is much more efficient and restrictive in its operation.
It assumes that the suitor asking the aid of a court of equity has himself been guilty of conduct in violation of the fundamental conceptions of equity jurisprudence, and therefore refuses him all recognition and relief with reference to the subject-matter or transaction in question.
It says that whenever a party, who, as actor, seeks to set the judicial machinery in motion and obtain some remedy, has violated conscience, or good faith, or other equitable principle, in his prior conduct, then the doors of the court will be shut against him in limine; the court will refuse to interfere on his behalf, to acknowledge his right, or to award him any remedy." (2 Pomeroy, Equity Jurisprudence, supra, 397, pp. 91-92, fn. omitted.)
The defense of unclean hands does not apply in every instance where the plaintiff has committed some misconduct in connection with the matter in controversy, but applies only where it would be inequitable to grant the plaintiff any relief. (Bradley Co. v. Bradley (1913) 165 Cal. 237, 242 131 P. 750; Martin v. Kehl (1983) 145 Cal. App. 3d 228, 239-240, fn. 1 193 Cal. Rptr. 312.)
The court must consider both the degree of harm caused by the plaintiff's misconduct and the extent of the plaintiff's alleged damages. (Republic Molding Corporation v. B. W. Photo Utilities (9th Cir. 1963) 319 F.2d 347, 349-350.)
Whether the defense applies in particular circumstances depends on the analogous case law, the nature of the misconduct, and the relationship of the misconduct to the claimed injuries. (Blain v. Doctor's Co. (1990) 222 Cal. App. 3d 1048, 1060 272 Cal. Rptr. 250.)
The decision of whether to apply the defense based on the facts is a matter within the trial court's discretion. (Lovett v. Carrasco (1998) 63 Cal. App. 4th 48, 55 73 Cal. Rptr. 2d 496.)