When Seeking Equitable Relief Is the Right Course of Action

Estimated read time 3 min read

Run a casual internet search on enforcing judgments and you will discover that most of the returned websites discuss monetary judgments. These are judgments involving some sort of monetary award for one party or the other. But not all judgments involve such awards. Enter the equitable judgment.

An equitable judgment may be rendered in cases in which parties are seeking equitable, rather than monetary, relief. The cases involve disputes that one or both parties believe cannot be adequately resolved with a monetary award. So instead, an equitable judgment forces the losing party to either take, or refrain from, a particular action.

Equitable judgments are often issued in the form of injunctions, which are court orders compelling a particular action. But they can also be issued in the form of specific performance or vacatur orders.

2 Examples of Equitable Relief

Equitable relief can be a confusing legal concept. If your only experience with civil judgments involves monetary awards, equitable relief may seem foreign to you. Below are two practical examples of equitable judgments. They might clear things up a bit.

1. A Contract Dispute

The first example involves two companies legally bound by a contract. A lawsuit could be brought by one party after the other breaches the contract. The offended party (a.k.a. the plaintiff) wants relief but feels as though a monetary award would be insufficient. Equitable relief is sought instead.

The court could grant equitable relief through several different means. First, the court could void the contract and return both parties to their original states. Second, the court could order rectification. This means that the contract is revised to more accurately reflect what was originally understood between the two parties.

A third option is for the court to order that the breaching party (a.k.a. the defendant) fulfill its obligations under the contract as originally written. A failure to do so could result in civil or criminal penalties.

2. Stolen Intellectual Property

The second example of equitable relief involves intellectual property that the defendant does not have a right to possess. The plaintiff cannot put the intellectual property back in a box now that it is out, but it can go to court to compel the defendant do not to publicly disclose the property in any meaningful way.

A court could provide equitable relief through a gag order. This would prevent the defendant from releasing any information about the intellectual property, or even the property itself. What the defendant knows must be kept secret. Any disclosure following a gag order could also result in civil or criminal penalties.

When Money Is Not Enough

A monetary judgment is rendered in cases in which financial relief is an adequate remedy. Enforcement of a monetary judgment is more or less collecting the award. According to Salt Lake City’s Judgment Collectors, the winning parties enforce monetary judgments. Courts only get involved in enforcement when winning parties want to take advantage of legal tools like garnishment and writs of seizure.

Enforcing an equity judgment is somewhat different. The winning party cannot really do anything to ensure enforcement. It is up to the losing party to comply with whatever orders the court issued. But with equitable relief, courts can intervene to enforce compliance through civil and criminal penalties.

An equitable judgment is just one of the many types of judgments rendered in civil courts. It is ideal for settling disputes for which monetary relief is insufficient. Due to its nature, the equitable judgment can take on many different forms to accommodate the details of each case.

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