N D S U Home Page  North Dakota State University
  Ag Law Text Banner


INFORMATION find our service links to the right   Home  About this Site   AGEC Home 

QUICK LINKS For related links to this site, look below
 Reference Topics
 Related Links
 Contact Author

Best if printed in landscape.

Court of Equity

Court of equity and court of law – The Amercian legal system is based to a large extent on the English legal system.  Thus some of the characteristics and complexities of the English system remain part of the American legal system today.  One feature is the notion that there is a court of law and a court of equity.  Even though the two ideas have been combined into a single judicial system in American (that is, our judges preside as both a law judge and an equity judge), several of the roles and responsibilities of the two courts still remain.   This page briefly overviews some of the distinct features of the two courts.

Barker v. Ness, 1998 ND 223, 587 N.W.2d 183 quoting Donovan v. Dickson, 37 N.D. 404, 164 N.W. 27, 31 (1917) -- "A court of equity has wide and extensive powers. If there were no provisions in the statutes speaking upon the powers of the court of equity, such court would nevertheless have, and does have, inherent power to grant such relief in cases in which the equitable power of the court is invoked as to the court shall seem proper in order to do justice between the parties . . . to place the parties in status quo and do equity between them."

Matrix Properties v. TAG Investments, 2002 ND 86 -- "[¶30] We have recognized the object of a court of equity is to place parties who are not at fault as nearly as possible in the same position they would have been in if there had been no default by the other party."

Schroeder v. Buchholz, 2001 ND 36, 622 N.W.2d 202 -- [¶29] District courts have broad authority when fashioning an equitable remedy. See Baker v. Minot Public School Dist. No. 1, 253 N.W.2d 444, 451 (N.D. 1977) (equity is flexible "and the power of a court of equity to grant such a remedy depends upon the factual situation involved and the need for a given remedy in a particular case"). "A lack of precedent is no obstacle to equitable relief which may be appropriate in a particular factual setting." Id.

Hamilton v. Hamilton, 410 N.W.2d 508 (N.D. 1987) -- "From an early period in the history of the common law, the courts of chancery, on certain grounds, exercised the right to enjoin enforcement of judgments entered in the courts of law. Kitzman v. Minnesota Thresher Manufacturing Company, 10 N.D. 26, 27, 84 N.W. 585, 586 (1900). Equity also restrained enforcement of common law judgments on other grounds, particularly in those instances where facts alleged in a complaint revealed that a party had a valid equitable defense to the action at law, but which defense, under the strict rules which governed at law, could not be pled in the common law courts. Kitzman, supra, 84 N.W. at 586-87. The grounds upon which equity could be imposed were not very numerous and the jurisdiction of the courts of chancery arose long before modern statutes and certainly prior to the adoption of the codes of civil procedure. Kitzman, supra."

Court of equity is available when there are inadequate remedies in court of law. The type of proceedings addressed in court of equity include divorce, probate, agency, trusts (corporations?), bankruptcy, equity of redemption and foreclosure, fraud, nuisance, and unjust enrichment. Remedies in a court of equity include injunction, specific performance, rescission, forfeiture, constructive trust (an accounting), and discovery; that is, judicial remedies when a monetary payment will not provide an adequate resolution of the dispute.

North Dakota (and most other states as well as U.S. federal courts) have adopted a unified court system wherein the court of equity and court of law are combined into a single court system.

  • "The judicial power of the state is vested in a unified judicial system..." (N.D. Const. Art. VI, Sect. 1).
  • " … The courts have: … 3. All the powers, according to the usages of courts of law and equity, necessary to the full and complete jurisdiction of the causes and parties..." (N.D.C.C. 27-05-06(3)).


Additional readings (with a range of credibility):



Last updated January 2, 2009

  NDSU Home  Phone Book  Campus Map  NDSU Search  College of Agriculture

E-Mail agecinf@ndsuext.nodak.edu
Published by Agribusiness and Applied Economics
Morrill Room 217, P.O. Box 5636
North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND 58105-5636
Phone: (701) 231-7441
Fax: (701) 231-7400