Editor's Note: In anticipation of the new Star Wars movie, we thought it might be fun to use the movie franchise as a metaphor for common legal issues. May the Force Be With You!
Hi Mr. Solo,
I heard from Luke Skywalker you had some trouble with Jabba the Hutt. Let’s see if I have the facts right. While running a shipment of Spice for Jabba, you and Chewie had to dump the cargo or have it seized by the Empire. The cargo was worth 17,000 credits. Mr. Hutt has now has a bounty on your head because you haven’t repaid the debt. Well, I have some great news for you.
The Defense 1: Unclean Hands
A contract is a legally enforceable agreement between parties. Each party in a contract agrees to do or not to do something. I assume you had a contract to smuggle Spice for Jabba. A breach of contract occurs when one party fails to fulfill his duties according to the terms of the contract. A breach of contract happened between you and Mr. Hutt when you dumped the cargo from the Millennium Falcon.
Under normal circumstances, you would owe him the 17,000 credits for the lost cargo. However, your venture with Mr. Hutt was illegal. With the unclean hands doctrine, a defendant may argue that a plaintiff isn’t entitled to relief because of some wrongdoing or liability for an offense.
You can claim that drug dealing is illegal. Mr. Hutt can’t request payment for the 17,000 credits you lost when the deal was to engage in illegal drug trafficking.
Do You Have to Prove Unclean Hands?
Yes. The court won’t just take your word that Jabba the Hutt has unclean hands. The requirements to prove the doctrine vary by jurisdiction. In general, you’d have to show he was committing a crime in connection with the contract. Other examples of unclean hands include:
- Acting fraudulently or dishonestly about the terms or nature of the contract
- Forcing a defendant to sign a contract
- Accepting or making a contract offer via fraud or violence
- Failing to perform the terms of the contract
This defense is used when the plaintiff’s actions violates the conscience or good faith required in enforcing a contract through a court of law. If your unclean hands defense was successful, you wouldn’t owe Jabba the 17,000 credits.
Defense 2: Credit Defenses
When being sued by a creditor like Mr. Hutt, there are a limited number of defenses you can raise, including:
- Partial Payments Weren’t Credited: Let’s say Luke, Leia, and Obi-wan paid you for your help. You decided to take the credits and make a partial payment with it. Jabba never put deducted the credits from the 17,000 you owed. You can raise the defense in court. Of course, you’d have to show proof you paid the credits.
- Statute of Limitations: This defense is a possible defense for you since the original debt occurred in 1977. Statute of limitations prevents a plaintiff from suing a defendant about a specific time limit passes. For example, in California, Mr. Hutt had four years from the time of the written contract to sue you. This is a viable defense as long as you didn’t try to renegotiate your debt with Mr. Hutt. Negotiating a debt often revives it. As a result, the debt stays alive a within the Statute of Limitations.
Defense 3: Breach of Contract Defenses
In some instances, a party is allowed to breach a contract without having to repay the aggrieved party. For instance, some contract breach defenses include:
- Making a contract with a minor
- Lack of mental capacity
- Undue influence
- A mistake was made in creating the contract
- The contract wasn’t an intended agreement
- Statute of Frauds
The best defense for you is change in circumstance that makes the contract impossible to perform. To successfully use this claim, you must be able to excuse not fulfilling the contract because of some overriding event. The overriding event must frustrate the purpose of the contract. In this case, being caught by the Empire with the Spice prohibited you from fulfilling the contract. You had to dump the cargo or get in trouble.
Another breach of contract defense is the contract was unconscionable. An unconscionable contract refers the contract being so one-sided that a reasonable person wouldn’t agree to the terms. Since only one party would benefit, it’s assumed by the court that you were ill-informed or pressured into signing it. If the court can overlook your smuggling ways, you may be successful. You took a huge risk to smuggle Spice. If successful, Jabba would have had a huge reward.
Hopefully, I’ve helped you with Jabba the Hutt’s credit claim against you.
Taelonnda Sewell, LegalMatch Legal Writer