Unjust enrichment

Overview

 

Unjust enrichment occurs when Party A confers a benefit upon Party B without Party A receiving the proper restitution required by law. This typically occurs in a contractual agreement when Party A fulfills his/her part of the agreement and Party B does not fulfill his/her part of the agreement.

Unjust Enrichment is distinguished from a gift, as a gift is given without the reasonable expectation of receiving something in return. As such, when Party A gives Party B a gift, Party A has no legal recourse to receive something in return. 

How to Recover Under a Claim of Unjust Enrichment

 

To recover on a claim of unjust enrichment, the plaintiff must show that the defendant was unjustly enriched at the plaintiff's expense. Therefore, according to Bloomgarden v. Coyer, the plaintiff has the burden of proof.

Recovery on a theory of unjust enrichment typically occurs where there was no contract between the parties, or a contract turns out to be invalid.  See Wex: quasi-contract.

Guiding Principles 

 

There are two principles which help to refine the circumstances under which a plaintiff cannot bring an unjust enrichment claim:

  1. gift principle
    1. The plaintiff cannot give the defendant a gift, and then sue the defendant, under unjust enrichment, for not giving anything in return
  2. choice principle
    1. The plaintiff cannot confer a benefit upon the defendant without giving the defendant the choice to reject the benefit, and then expect something in return from the defendant
      1. ex: The plaintiff cannot paint the defendant's house in the middle of the night when defendant is sleeping, and then expect the defendant to pay the plaintiff for the plaintiff's efforts (assuming that the two parties had not contracted for this service to be performed at this time).

 

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