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In the practice of law, judicial estoppel (also known as estoppel by inconsistent positions) is an estoppel which precludes a party from taking a position in a case which is contrary to a position they have taken in earlier legal proceedings. Although, in the United States, it is only a part of common law and therefore not sharply defined, it is generally agreed that it can only be cited if the party in question successfully maintained its position in the earlier proceedings and benefited from it.
Judicial estoppel is a doctrine which may be applied in matters involving closed bankruptcies wherein the former debtor attempts to lay claim to an asset which was not disclosed on the bankruptcy schedules.
In an early US articulation of the doctrine, the United States Supreme Court, in First National Bank Of Jacksboro v. Lasater, 196 U.S. 115 (1905), held at 119:
- "It cannot be that a bankrupt, by omitting to schedule and withholding from his trustee all knowledge of certain property, can, after his estate in bankruptcy has been finally closed up, immediately thereafter assert title to the property on the ground that the trustee had never taken any action in respect to it. If the claim was of value (as certainly this claim was, according to the judgment below), it was something to which the creditors were entitled, and this bankrupt could not, by withholding knowledge of its existence, obtain a release from his debts and still assert title to the property."
See also Sierra Switchboard Co. v. Westinghouse Electric Corp., 789 F.2d 705 (9th Cir. 1986).
- Judicial Estoppel and Inconsistent Positions of Law Applied to Fact and Pure Law, Kira A. Davis, Note, Cornell Law Review Vol. 89, p. 191- 230
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