The Law is a system of constraints on the behavior of individuals and groups in society which is sanctioned and enforced by the state. Law is that which must be obeyed and followed by citizens, subject to sanctions or legal consequences.
Equity is the name given to a set of legal principles, in jurisdictions following the English common law tradition. Equity supplements strict rules of law and allow courts to use discretion and apply justice in accordance with natural law.
The common law is a strict, principle-based reasoning that uses the circumstances of a case to evaluate the laws that are applicable.
The principles of equity are part of U.S. common law[i]. The common law has adopted and given effect to the equitable principle[ii].
In Wells v. Pierce, 27 N.H. 503, 512 (N.H. 1853), the court held that equity, as a great branch of the law of England, was brought over by the colonists and has always existed as a part of the common law, in its broadest sense, in New Hampshire.
The equity principles as administered in England were never intended to create a new law but were introduced for the purpose of assisting and giving effect to the general laws of the realm. Equity follows the law, but does not control it. The purpose of equity is to support the common law and carry it into practical effect.
In Continental Guaranty Corp. v. People’s Bus Line, Inc., 31 Del. 595, 605 (Del. Super. Ct. 1922), the court observed that when the U.S. adopted the common law of England, the U.S. adopted it as an entire system so far as it adapted to the circumstances of the people. Also, the principles of equity as administered in England constituted a part of the common law for the purpose of giving it a practical effect.
In California, statutes have made the common law of England the rule of decision in all courts of the state so long as they are not repugnant to or inconsistent with the constitution of the U.S. or the constitution or laws of the state, had in contemplation the whole body of common-law jurisprudence and embraced equity in its contemplation[iii].
By judicial construction, the Florida Common Law includes the substantive principles of equity as well as those of law[iv]. In Campbell v. Colorado Coal & Iron Co., 9 Colo. 60, 64 (Colo. 1886), the court held that the term common law in its broader sense includes those doctrines of equity jurisprudence which are not expressed in legislative enactments.
[i] In re Pennock’s Estate, 20 Pa. 268, 274 (Pa. 1853)
[ii] Reel v. Combes, 25 Ohio App. 476 (Ohio Ct. App., Cuyahoga County 1927)
[iii] Martin v. Superior Court, 176 Cal. 289 (Cal. 1917)
[iv] Soud v. Hike, 56 So. 2d 462, 466 (Fla. 1952)