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Vol. 2009-06 | June, 2009

Quantum Meruit v. Unjust Enrichment, Distinguished

One U.S. District Court, in a construction case in Maine, clarified the important distinctions between the terms, Quantum Meruit and Unjust Enrichment, in actions for the recovery of damages, deciding whether these terms were misstated or undistinguishable:

“.As the Law Court has explained, quantum meruit and unjust enrichment are distinct causes of action; “Quantum meruit, also sometimes labelled `contract implied in fact,’ involves recovery for services or materials provided under an implied contract. Unjust enrichment describes recovery for the value of the benefit retained when there is no contractual relationship, but when, on the grounds of fairness and justice, the law compels performance of a legal and moral duty to pay, and the damages analysis is based on principles of equity, not contract.” Paffhausen v. Balano, 1998 ME 47, ¶ 6, 708 A.2d 269, 271. “Damages in unjust enrichment are measured by the value of what was inequitably retained. In quantum meruit, by contrast, the damages are not measured by the benefit realized and retained by the defendant, but rather are based on the value of the services provided by the plaintiff.” Id. ¶ 7, 708 A.2d at 271.

“A valid claim in quantum meruit requires: that

  1. services were rendered to the defendant by the plaintiff;
  2. with the knowledge and consent of the defendant; and
  3. under circumstances that make it reasonable for the plaintiff to expect payment.”

Id. ¶ 8, 708 A.2d at 271. “While the formalities of an express contract are not a prerequisite to recovery in quantum meruit, there must be a reasonable expectation on the part of the claimant to receive compensation for his services and a concurrent intention of the other party to compensate him.” Id. ¶ 9, 708 A.2d at 272.

“To establish a claim for unjust enrichment, three elements must be proved:

  1. a benefit conferred upon the defendant by the plaintiff;
  2. an appreciation or knowledge by the defendant of the benefit; and
  3. the acceptance or retention by the defendant of the benefit under such circumstances as to make it inequitable for the defendant to retain the benefit without payment of its value.”

Bowden v. Grindle, 651 A.2d 347, 350-51 (Me.1994).

JAY CASHMAN, INC. v. PORTLAND PIPE LINE CORP., 559 F.Supp.2d 85 (D. Me. 2008).

An Ohio Court distinguished these terms in another manner: “An action for unjust enrichment, or quantum meruit, is for the value of services rendered. National City Bank v. Fleming (1981), 2 Ohio App. 3d 50, 57, 440 N.E.2d 590. Such an action rests upon the equitable principle that one shall not be permitted to unjustly enrich oneself at the expense of another, without making compensation therefor. Id.

In order to demonstrate a prima facie case, a plaintiff must show that he conferred a benefit upon another and that the circumstances render it unjust and inequitable to permit the other to retain the benefit without making payment. Id.”

“Sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious.”
George Orwell

AUTHOR / EDITOR: J. NORMAN STARK is an Attorney-at-Law, a Registered Architect, (AIA, NCARB) Registered Landscape Architect, Interior Designer, Planner and Senior Appraiser (ASA), admitted to practice law before the Bar of Ohio, the US District Courts, Ohio and Illinois (Central Dist.), the US Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court. He is a Mediator, Arbitrator and Litigator with experience in Business, Construction Law, and Public Works, and with additional experience in Real Estate, Construction Attorney (Legal Project and Crisis Management), and as an Expert Witness (Forensic Architect). His office is in Cleveland, Ohio.