Eleventh Circuit Notes Split Re Whether Laches May Bar Copyright Infringement Claim Filed within the Statute of Limitations

Per Peter Letterese And Associates, Inc. v. World Institute Of Scientology Enterprises, 533 F.3d 1287 (11th Cir. Jul 08, 2008):

We next consider whether summary judgment for defendants was appropriate as to Count 1 on the alternate ground that PL&A's claim is barred by the defense of laches, which prevents a plaintiff who has slept on his rights from enforcing those rights against a defendant. The question whether the equitable doctrine of laches may bar a claim for copyright infringement that was filed within the statute of limitations has generated a circuit split and is a question of first impression in this circuit.

In answering the question of whether the defense of laches may be interposed in a copyright infringement suit, therefore, we cannot agree with the conclusion of the Fourth Circuit, which is an unqualified "no." See Lyons P'ship, L.P. v. Morris Costumes, Inc., 243 F.3d 789, 798 (4th Cir.2001). Prather recognized the applicability of general equitable doctrines, and like tolling, laches falls into that category. Cf. Teamsters & Employers Welfare Trust of Ill. v. Gorman Bros. Ready Mix, 283 F.3d 877, 882 (7th Cir.2002) ("What is sauce for the goose (the plaintiff seeking to extend the statute of limitations) is sauce for the gander (the defendant seeking to contract it)."). However, we remain mindful of the Fourth Circuit's invocation of separation of powers principles which counsel against the use of "the judicially created doctrine of laches to bar a federal statutory claim that has been timely filed under an express statute of limitations." Lyons P'ship, 243 F.3d at 798. We therefore answer this question with a presumptive "no"; there is a strong presumption that a plaintiff's suit is timely if it is filed before the statute of limitations has run. Only in the most extraordinary circumstances will laches be recognized as a defense. Cf. *1321 Chirco v. Crosswinds Communities, Inc., 474 F.3d 227, 234 (6th Cir.2007) (noting the limited applicability of laches to copyright cases in "what can best be described as unusual circumstances"); Jacobsen v. Deseret Book Co., 287 F.3d 936, 951 (10th Cir.2002) ("Although it is possible, in rare cases, that a statute of limitations can be cut short by the doctrine of laches, we see no reason to supplant the statute of limitations in this case." (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)).


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