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Common Law Defenses – Laches Bar

State ex rel Marvin Coleman v. McCaughtry, 2006 WI 49, reversing and remandingsummary order of court of appeals
For Coleman: Brian Kinstler


¶28      PrihodaSawyerLohr and Schafer all employ a three-element test where the first element is unreasonable delay in bringing the claim and the other two elements apply to the party asserting laches: lack of knowledge (that the claim would be brought) and effect (prejudice). In NeylanMcMillian,Smalley and Evans, the first element is the same, unreasonable delay, but the second element of the two-element analysis is set out as “actual prejudice.” When the delay is not extensive, the movant’s lack of knowledge that the claim would be brought is important in assessing prejudice. Neylan, 121 Wis.  2d at 491 n.5. Stated otherwise, actual prejudice includes the concept that the party raising laches did not have knowledge that the claim would be brought and that he suffered prejudice because of the delay in bringing the claim.

¶29      Because it may be difficult to quantify “actual prejudice,” we conclude that the three-element analysis of Sawyer and Prihoda provides the better analytic framework for assessing a laches defense than does the two-element analysis set out in McMillianSmalley and Evans. Carefully applied to the facts, assessing whether a party raising laches did not have knowledge that the claim would be brought will permit the circuit court to more fully apprise the effect of a claim that has been unreasonably delayed. For example, if the State had knowledge that Coleman would bring his claim of ineffective appellate counsel, but destroyed all the records that it possessed that were relevant to that claim, the State might be prejudiced in defending against the claim, but it would nevertheless fail on its laches defense.

Laches is discussed here as a State’s defense to a habeas claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel.


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