1. a. In ordinary language, the quality of being equal or fair; fairness, impartiality; evenhanded dealing—e.g.:
“In ordinary parlance equity is an abstract term, connoting natural justice.”
Wilbur Larremore, Continental Regulation of Contempt of Court, 13 Harv. L. Rev. 615, 621 (1900).
“The essence of equity is the power to do equity. It is a blend of what is fair and what is just.”
In re Gloria Mfg. Corp., 65 B.R. 341, 347 (E.D. Va. 1985).
“[Equity de]notes equal and impartial justice as between two persons whose rights or claims are in conflict.”
Demers v. Gerety, 595 P.2d 387, 395–96 (N.M. Ct. App. 1978).
“The term equity may also be used in a wider sense to cover the whole of the field of natural justice, i.e., good conscience.”
Cenydd I. Howells, Equity in a Nutshell 1 (1966).
3. a. The recourse to principles of justice to correct or supplement the law as applied to particular circumstances—e.g.:
“The qualities of mercy and practicality have made equity the instrument for nice adjustment and reconciliation between the public interest and private needs as well as between competing private claims.”
Hecht Co. v. Bowles, 321 U.S. 321, 329–30 (1944) (per Douglas, J.).
“‘Equitie’ is a construction made by the judges that cases out of the letter of a statute, yet being within the same mischief or cause of the making of the same, shall be within the same remedy that the statute provideth.”
Coke, Institutes, bk. 1, 24b (1628).
4. a. The system of law or body of principles originating in the English Court of Chancery and superseding the common and statute law (together called “law” in the narrower sense) when the two conflict—e.g.:
“Equity [is] in essence, a system of doctrines and procedures which developed side by side with the common law and statute law.”
L.B. Curzon, Equity 4 (1967).
“Equity … meaning … any body of rules existing by the side of the original civil law, founded on distinct principles and claiming incidentally to supersede the civil law in virtue of a superior sanctity inherent in those principles.”
Henry S. Maine, Ancient Law 28 (1870).
5. a. An equitable right or interest, i.e., one recognizable by a court of equity. Often pl. E.g.:
“Often, however, the term ‘balance of equities’ is used to denote only a balancing of private and public interests.”
Zygmunt J.B. Plater, Statutory Violations and Equitable Discretion, 70 Cal. L. Rev. 524, 535 (1982).
“Profits realized from the purchase and sale … of an equity security within a period of less than 6 months are recoverable by the corporation.”
Chenery Corp. v. SEC, 128 F.2d 303, 308 (D.C. Cir. 1942).
6. The right to relief in a court of equity, or the reasons for deserving such relief; equitable merit—e.g.:
“Where there is equal equity in two contending parties, it is always an unpleasant task to decide between them.”
Graff v. Smith's Adm'rs, 1 U.S. 481, 484 (Pa. Ct. Com. Pl. 1789) (per Shippen, J.).
7. A matter that can or must be decided in a court of equity. Usually in the phrase equity reserved—e.g.:
“Upon the equity reserved under and by the said interlocutory order, it is further ordered, decreed and adjudged, that the injunction heretofore granted in this cause be … perpetuated.”
U.S. v. Nourse, 31 U.S. 470, 484 syl. (1832).
8. The meaning, intent, or general purpose (of a statute)—e.g.:
“These cases thus out of the letter, are said to be within the Equity of an Act of Parliament.”
3 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England ✳431 (1765).
“‘[W]ithin the equity,’ means the same thing as ‘within the mischief’ of the statute.”
Shuttleworth v. Le Fleming, 19 C.B.N.S. 703 (1865).
Today, this sense is said to
“have disappeared as a term of art or as an element of our [modern] jurisprudence.”
Carleton K. Allen, Law in the Making 456 (7th ed. 1964).
9. An equitable remedy—e.g.:
“Nor is there any equity against the Plaintiff in error.”
Clarke v. Russel, 3 U.S. 415, 421 syl. (1799).
“A remedy in a court of equity is frequently called an equity.”
Harrison v. Craddock, 178 S.W.2d 296, 301 (Tex. Civ. App.—Galveston 1944).
10. Civ. law. Where positive law is absent or ambiguous, the method of deciding cases by natural law or the inferred intent of the legislature—e.g.:
“Equity in the sense that writers in Continental Europe and Latin and Scandinavian countries use it in observing that ideas of equity are the basis of law and are consequently supplementary law.”
Vilhelm Lundstedt, 25 Tul. L. Rev. 59, 59 (1950).
“The equity of the statute … seems to be a continental notion…. When the courts spoke of the equity of a statute they meant only that adjustment of detail which is necessary when applying a general rule to a specific case.”
Theodore F.T. Plucknett, A Concise History of the Common Law 334–35 (5th ed. 1956).
11. The right to decide matters in equity; equity jurisdiction; equitable power—e.g.:
“[Equity] describes the power belonging to the judge—a power which must … be exercised according to his own standard of right.”
John N. Pomeroy, Equity Jurisprudence § 45, at 46 (1881).
12. a. The amount by which the value of a property or an interest in property exceeds secured claims or liens—e.g.:
“‘[E]quity’ … is the value, above all secured claims against the property, that can be realized from the sale of the property for the benefit of the unsecured creditors.”
In re Mellor, 734 F.2d 1396, 1400 n.2 (9th Cir. 1984).
13. A share in a public company quoted on the stock exchange. E.g.:
“On the other hand, investment in shares of public companies quoted on the Stock Exchange (‘equities’) introduced the risk of dependence upon the fortunes of the company selected … Investment in equities involved risk.”
William Geldart, Introduction to English Law 86 (D.C.M. Yardley ed., 9th ed. 1984).
The term is used in several phrases. A countervailing equity is an equitable right or interest that clashes with another. A latent equity is an equitable claim that has been concealed from one or more interested parties. (The phrase secret equity is synonymous with latent equity.) A natural equity is that which a conscientious person would consider fair or just in the absence of legal guidance. A perfect equity is the interest that a buyer of real estate has after fulfilling all obligations in the purchase, but before receiving the deed.
Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage, Bryan A. Garner