The term "just cause" refers to situations in which there is a legally valid reason for someone to have undertaken a particular action. This term is also used in a legal sense when someone requests something from a court. A court can order the person to show cause, meaning that the person must show a just cause for the requested action on the part of the court. If just cause cannot be demonstrated, an action may not be legally defensible.
Also known as sufficient, lawful, or good cause, just cause revolves around the question of what the "reasonable person" would do in a similar situation. Although the definition of "reasonable" can be rather subjective, courts try to weigh legal situations fairly when determining whether or not someone had a good reason to engage in a particular activity or whether or not a request before the court is reasonable.
A common situation in which this concept arise is in cases regarding employment termination. If an employee believes that he or she has been wrongfully terminated, the matter can be taken to court. The employer may be able to show just cause and use that as a defense to the suit. If the court agrees that the employer acted reasonably, given the situation, it will rule on the side of the employer. Employers are usually very careful when they terminate employees to ensure that there is a just cause and it is clearly documented.
Just cause can also come up in situations like breaches of contract or other suits over actions which people may take. The person being sued may attempt to provide just cause for the action. For example, if someone breaks a lease agreement because a flood renders the house uninhabitable and the landlord sues, the court will likely rule in favor of the tenant. In this particular example, the tenant is meeting the standard of what a reasonable person would do in the same situation.
When people make motions in court, they must show just cause for the motion to be granted by the court. This is designed to ensure that courts do not grant requests indiscriminately. Another example of a situation in which just cause might come up involves a name change. People who wish to change their names must file a document showing cause for the name change before the court will grant the request and issue a court order.