How long is too long to wait before a securities arbitration claim can be asserted? There's no simple answer. Many factors go into the mix in fixing deadlines, including (of critical importance) the nature of the claim. Another factor is whether the claim is subject to arbitration.
In Maine -- as in many other states -- the generally applicable deadline for filing legal claims (the statute of limitations) does not apply in arbitration. The default statute of limitations applicable to most Maine civil actions is six years after a cause of action accrues. 14 M.R.S. §752 (“All civil actions shall be commenced within 6 years after the cause of action accrues and not afterwards … except as otherwise specifically provided.”). Under Maine law, however, the statute of limitations does not apply to arbitration because arbitration is not an action an action at law. Lewiston Firefighters Assoc. v. Lewiston, 354 A.2d 154, 167 (Me. 1976) (“Arbitration is not an action at law and the statute is not, therefore, an automatic bar to . . . recovery.”).
But a claimant cannot wait forever to assert a claim. Arbitrators may consider the equitable affirmative defense of laches, whether a claimant has waited “an unreasonable length of time” and thereby induced the other party to rely “in good faith on the other party’s non-action” and “change his position” accordingly. Id. at 168. A laches defense is equitable in nature and “addressed to the [arbitration panel’s] conscience.” Id. Its touchstone is “fairness” under the “particular factual circumstances” of a claim. Id. Because laches is an affirmative defense, the defendant bears the burden of proof to show that it applies.