The equitable remedy of accounting exists for rare cases in which "accounts between the paries are of such a complicated nature that only a court of equity can satisfactorily unravel them." Dairy Queen, Inc. v. Wood, 369 U.S. 469, 478 (1962) (internal quotation marks omitted). The court may appoint a special master to review the relevant transactions and render a report. The judge then takes the guise of a chancellor in equity, balancing the equities between the parties and rendering an award according to his or her sense of fairness.
But the remedy applies only if the claimant lacks an adequate legal remedy — which typically takes the form of money damages.
A district court thought it found a new way to get around the inadequate remedy at law requirement. It said that "[r]equir[ing] the jury to go through the detail of what each of [the parties' transactions] meant in terms of damages would prolong the trial unduly, and that makes it an inadequate legal remedy."
The Tenth Circuit reversed. Haynes Trane Service Agency, Inc. v. Am. Standard, Inc., No. 07-1440 10th Cir. Apr. 7, 2009). The party seeking the remedy, Trane, alleged a legal claim, fraud, against HaynesTSA, a Trane franchisee that sold Trane heating, ventilation, and air conditioning products. HaynesTSA cheated, Trane alleged, by submitting false "claim-back" forms. The claim-backs enabled HaynesTSA to collect from Trane payments compensating for price reductions HaynesTSA represented it made to meet competitors' lower prices to HVAC customers.
The Tenth Circuit would have none of it:
In this case the district court did not make (and based on the record on appeal, could not have made) findings establishing that "only a court of equity [could] satisfactorily unravel" the parties' accounts. Dairy Queen, 369 U.S. at 478. All the district court found was that having a jury tediously slow through individual claimbacks would "prolong the trial." Aplts. App. Vol. IV at 1712. We can locate no support, however, for the view that a prolonged trial in itself provides an inadequate remedy at law.
Haynes Trane, slip op. at 37. Because the question of damages intertwined with the question of whether HaynesTSA defrauded Trane, the court remanded the case for a new trial.