Laches requires: (1) knowledge or reasonable opportunity to discover on the part of a potential plaintiff that he has a cause of action against a defendant; (2) an unreasonable delay by the plaintiff in commencing that cause of action; and (3) damage to defendant resulting from the unreasonable delay.
Appellant Thomas Milroy began operating a day-care in the family residence. A restrictive covenant prohibited home businesses in the neighborhood, and Milroy's property was subject to the covenant. Respondent Gordon Peckham sued to enjoin the day-care operation. The Superior Court, Spokane County (Washington) concluded that the day-care was a business, Peckham had an equitable right to enforce the covenant, and enjoined Milroy from operating the day care. On appeal, Milroy contended that the trial court erred by enjoining the day-care business because the restrictive covenant was abandoned or violated public policy. Milroy also asserted the defenses of laches and equitable estoppel.
Did the restrictive covenant prohibiting home businesses violate of public policy?
The Court rejected Milroy's arguments. While there was evidence of other home businesses in the neighborhood, these violations were neither habitual nor substantial, and therefore, did not constitute abandonment of the covenant. Additionally, Milroy did not demonstrate material changes in neighborhood to defeat enforcement of the covenant. Milroy asserted that Peckham knew about the plans to operate a day-care in the residence, but he delayed filing his action and therefore, the doctrines of laches and equitable estoppel barred the suit. However, Milroy failed to establish the elements of either defense. The trial court found that Peckham did not unreasonably delay the suit, took no actions inconsistent with his position at trial, and was not silent in his concerns over the operation of the day-care. The Court found no proof that public policy prevented enforcement of the covenant.