Sometimes an unscrupulous adversary lulls another into a false sense of security and inaction, and then seeks to capitalize on technicalities implicated thereby, such as time deadlines missed by the unsuspecting victim. Fortunately Virginia courts are empowered to resolve such injustices based on equity instead of on legal technicalities.
“Courts of equity will not permit a party by his or her words and conduct to manipulate judicial proceedings in a manner that will work an injustice by inducing the adverse party not to defend the cause. Estoppel by conduct, whereby a party will not be heard to deny that which he has induced others to rely upon as true, extends without limit throughout the law.” Emrich v. Emrich, 9 Va. App. 288, 293-294 (1989).
“The general rule of equitable estoppel, or, as it is frequently called, estoppel in pais, is that when one person, by his statements, conduct, action, behavior, concealment, or even silence, has induced another, who has a right to rely upon those statements, etc., and who does rely upon them in good faith, to believe in the existence of the state of facts with which they are compatible, and act upon that belief, the former will not be allowed to assert, as against the later [sic], the existence of a different state of facts from that indicated by his statements or conduct, if the latter has so far changed position that he would be injured thereby.” Id. at 294.
“Trial courts clearly have a duty to inquire further when allegations of fraud and deceit are alleged with specificity, as they were here.” Id. at 295. “While Rule 2:17 dispenses with notice to defendants of any subsequent proceedings against whom a bill of complaint is taken for confessed, a bill of complaint for divorce or annulment is never taken for confessed. Id. at 296.