Unclean Hands Affirmative Defense
In Florida, and many jurisdictions, there is an equitable affirmative defense known as unclean hands. Most of the time, it is pled as an affirmative defense incorrectly. It is asserted, but not really a defense a party can ever prove. It is a hard defense to prevail on because it is akin to fraud:
Unclean hands is an equitable defense much like fraud. The defense applies to bar an equitable claim no matter the claim’s merits when “the plaintiff has engaged in some manner of unscrupulous conduct, overreaching, or trickery that would be ‘condemned by honest and reasonable men.’ ”
U.S. Bank National Association v. Qadir, 47 Fla.L.Weekly D1564b (Fla. 1st DCA 2022) (citations omitted).
The First District Court of Appeals in Qadir, discussing unclean hands and rejecting the defense, explained that a defendant simply proving the bad conduct is not enough. The party asserting the defense “must also prove three other “elements”: (1) reliance on the conduct; (2) relation to the litigation; (3) resulting in an injury.” Qadir, supra (citation omitted).
While unclean hands may sound like a great affirmative defense in certain contexts, asserting the defense and actually proving and prevailing on it are two different things. If this is a defense you want to try to prove, remember you will need to factually prove the bad “unclean hands” conduct and the elements to satisfy the defense.
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