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The maxim that he who comes into a court of equity must come with clean hands was never intended to bar everyone guilty of wrongful conduct from relief in a court of equity, and as a general rule it is required that the wrongdoing or fraud of the complainant, to bar him from relief on the ground that he comes with unclean hands, must be connected with the subject of the litigation and have some relation to the rights of the parties arising out of the transaction. That rule is not applicable to the facts in this record. It is true, the fraud and wrongdoing of complainant did not affect the private rights of defendants and afforded no justification in morals for their seeking to profit by exposing them, but on the ground of the public interest and policy we do not think complainant's grievance is of a character to be redressed in a court of equity. The misrepresentations of complainant in the conduct of its business affected the public, and it would seem a strange thing if a court of conscience should be required to protect a suitor in the commission of a fraud upon the public. A court of equity is a court of conscience and will exercise its extraordinary powers only to enforce the requirements of conscience. It is no part of its function to aid a litigant in the promotion of a fraud upon the public.
This litigation was begun by bill in equity filed June 13, 1917, in the circuit court of Cook county by the American University against D. E. Wood and the Chicago University of American Sciences, a corporation. The bill alleged complainant is a corporation organized under the laws of Illinois for pecuniary profit in July, 1911, and authorized, among other things, to establish and conduct a college or school of learning for the purpose of giving instruction, in person or by correspondence, in chiropractic and to publish and sell publications pertaining thereto; that its business has been carried on largely by correspondence with students in different parts of the United States, averaging in number 2500 or 3000 during the three or four years preceding the filing of the bill, and that $20,000 has been expended in building up its business. The bill charged the defendants with circulating letters and advertising matter among the students and prospective students of complainant containing statements and charges of a character derogatory to complainant and its business, and prayed they be enjoined from further sending out such circulars and letters. Answers to the bill were filed by the defendants, and the cause was referred to a master in chancery to take and report the testimony together with his conclusions of law and fact. The master reported recommending a decree as prayed in complainant's bill, and the chancellor, after overruling exceptions by defendants, entered a decree enjoining them as prayed in the bill. Defendants prosecuted an appeal to the Appellate Court for the First District, where the decree was reversed and the cause remanded, with directions to dismiss the bill. The Appellate Court granted a certificate of importance, and complainant has prosecuted an appeal to this court.
Can the bill be maintained if it did not come into a court of equity with clean hands?
The court found that the fraud and wrongdoing of the complainant did not affect the private rights of appellees and afforded no justification in morals for their seeking to profit by exposing them, but on the ground of the public interest and policy the court did not think that the complainant's grievance was of a character to be redressed in a court of equity. The misrepresentations of complainant in the conduct of its business affected the public, and a court of conscience should not have been required to protect a suitor in the commission of a fraud upon the public.