been valid against the decedent would be valid against the estate.
Defendant's argument mischaracterizes the scope of an "unclean hands" defense. The unclean hands doctrine applies if "the alleged misconduct [is] connected with the transaction upon which the plaintiff seeks relief." Adams v. Manown, 328 Md. 463, 615 A.2d 611, 617 (Md. 1992). Here, the matter in which relief is sought is the estate's claim against Lisa Rubin for giving a warranty on land she transferred to the estate in the 1993 settlement of the estate's wrongful death action against her. It is undisputed that the estate negotiated in good faith and does not have unclean hands in that transaction.
Defendant, however, asserts that she has a valid unclean hands defense against the estate because she can raise any defenses against the estate that she would have had against the decedent. Defendant is correct that generally defenses that "would have been valid against the decedent, had the decedent survived, are good against the decedent's" estate. See, e.g., Smith v. Gross, 319 Md. 138, 571 A.2d 1219, 1221 (Md. 1990). But this principle provides no relief for the defendant on the facts of this case. Because the matter in which relief is being sought, the negotiations between Lisa Rubin and Tim Warner's estate, never involved Tim Warner, Lisa Rubin could not have raised an unclean hands against him. Consequently, no such defense exists against the estate.
An illustration of a valid use of an unclean hands defense should serve to show why such a defense is not applicable here. If one person were secretly to transfer property to another in order illegally to avoid tax liability, the recipient might well have an unclean hands defense if the transferor were later to sue the recipient for recovery of the property. If the transferor were to die, the court would have the discretion to apply the doctrine to bar relief on any claim brought by the transferor's estate against the recipient for return of the property.
In this case, the estate negotiated in good faith for property in settlement of a wrongful death suit. The fact that nine years earlier the decedent might have fraudulently helped Lisa Rubin obtain that property does not create an unclean hands defense against the estate, which was an innocent party to the 1993 negotiations. Any "dirt" on Tim Warner's hands from 1984 is not transferred to his estate to protect Lisa Rubin from liability for breaching the warranty of marketable title that she made to the estate in 1993. See D. Dobbs, Remedies, § 2.4, at 46 (1973) ("'What is material is not that the plaintiff's hands are dirty, but that he dirtied them in acquiring the right he now asserts.'") (citations omitted).
Defendant is correct that there are factual questions as to whether Tim Warner and/or Lisa Rubin fraudulently induced Helene Rubin to transfer an interest in her property to Lisa in 1984. Resolution of those issues may reveal that Tim Warner did have unclean hands as to the 1984 transfer. But these disputes are not material to the question of whether Lisa Rubin breached her express warranty of marketable title to the estate of Tim Warner.
For the foregoing reasons, summary judgment on defendant's third party claim is granted solely on the question of liability.
United States District Court
Having considered the submissions of the parties and having heard argument, the Court hereby ORDERS that the third party plaintiff's (estate of Tim Warner) motion for summary judgment solely on the issue of liability against third party defendant (Lisa Rubin) be GRANTED.
United States District Court
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