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Posted in Newsletter on March 11, 2022   |  by Gary Burger

Unjustly Enriched

We recently filed a Motion for Summary Judgment in a case. The Motion included asking the court for judgment on an Unjust Enrichment claim.

Unjust enrichment is a sometimes overlooked remedy. It basically is a claim that one party has provided something to another party and not been paid. The other party that was unjustly enriched should give that back to the first party.

This claim can only be made where there is no express contract or agreement.

One of my favorite classes in law school was Remedies - taught by Richard Lazarus - now a law professor at Harvard.

Examples include a contractor who does work for someone on a handshake and not paid, an employee who works and is not paid or a tenant that improves property and is not paid. It can arise in a variety of circumstances.

The principle of unjust enrichment has given rise to the doctrine of quasi-contract, also known as a contract implied in law, as a theory of recovery. Pitman v. City of Columbia, 309 S.W.3d 395, 402 (Mo. App. W.D. 2010).

The essential elements of the existence of a quasi-contract unjust enrichment claim are as follows:

  1. A benefit conferred on the Defendant by the Plaintiff;
  2. Appreciation by the Defendant of the fact of the benefit; and
  3. Acceptance and retention by the Defendant of that benefit under circumstances in which retention without payment would be inequitable.

Steinberg v. Fleischer, 706 S.W.2d 901 (Mo. App. E.D. 1986); Northern Farms, Inc. v. Jenkins, 472 S.W.3d 617 (Mo. App. W.D. 2015).

For the third element, Missouri courts have held that “[un]just retention of benefits only occurs when the benefits were ‘conferred (a) in misreliance on a right or duty; or (b) through dutiful intervention in another’s affairs; or (c) under constraint.’” Howard v. Turnbull, 316 S.W.3d 431, 436 (Mo. App. W.D. 2010) (emphasis added); Graves v. Berkowitz, 15 S.W.3d 59, 62 (Mo. App. W.D. 2000); Rolla Lumber Co. v. Evans, 482 S.W.2d 519, 522 (Mo. App. S.D. 1972).

“Unjust enrichment permits restitution based upon the value of the benefit received.” Patrick V. Koepke Const., Inc. v. Woodsage Const. Co., 844 S.W.2d 508, 516 (Mo. App. E.D. 1992).

So, just because you or your client do not have a written contract does not mean you cannot make a claim. Consider using Unjust Enrichment.