An equity is
|“||information that was originated, created by, classified by, or concerns the activities of a specific government agency or organization and, as owners of the information, only they can declassify it. Records that contain multiple agency 'equities' must be referred to those agencies for declassification review.||”|
Equity is the name given to the set of legal principles, in jurisdictions following the English common law tradition, which supplement strict rules of law where their application would operate harshly, so as to achieve what is sometimes referred to as "natural justice."
Overview (Legal principles)
It is often confusingly contrasted with "law", which in this context refers to "statutory law" (the laws enacted by a legislature, such as the United States Congress), and "common law" (the principles established by judges when they decide cases).
In modern practice, perhaps the most important distinction between law and equity is the set of remedies each offers. The most common civil remedy a court of law can award is money damages. Equity, however, enters injunctions or decrees directing someone either to act or to forbear from acting. Often this form of relief is in practical terms more valuable to a litigant.
In general, a litigant cannot obtain equitable relief unless there is "no adequate remedy at law" — that is, a court will not grant an injunction unless monetary damages are an insufficient remedy for the injury in question. Law courts also enter orders, called "writs" (such as a writ of habeas corpus) but they are less flexible and less easily obtained than an injunction.
Another distinction is the unavailability of a jury in equity: the judge is the trier of fact. In the American legal system, the right of jury trial in civil cases tried in federal court is guaranteed by the Seventh Amendment, but only "[i]n Suits at common law," i.e., in cases that traditionally would have been handled by the law courts. The question of whether a case should be determined by a jury depends largely on the type of relief the plaintiff requests. If a plaintiff requests damages in the form of money or certain other forms of relief, such as the return of a specific item of property, the remedy is considered legal, and a jury is available as the fact-finder. On the other hand, if the plaintiff requests an injunction, declaratory judgment, specific performance or modification of a contract, or other non-monetary relief, the claim would usually be one in equity.
A final important distinction between law and equity is the source of the rules governing the decisions. In law, decisions are made by reference to legal doctrines or statutes. In contrast, equity, with its emphasis on fairness and flexibility, has only general guides known as the maxims of equity.
- Transforming the Security Classification System, at 5 n. iv.
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