This spring semester I have Contracts 2, Civil Procedure 2 and Torts.
Contracts 2 should be somewhat interesting, as I have the same professor as Contracts 1, and we’re basically picking up where we left off last semester. To note: of my grades last semester, my biggest success of the three classes was in Contracts 1, so I certainly am looking to pick up where I left off.
Today’s discussion: Unjust enrichment.
Today we’re looking at unjust enrichment, and a discussion on a number of situations that draw the line between those who are doing work in a contract without due compensation, and those parties who choose to be “officious intermedlers” such as the guy who unilaterally decides to mow your lawn, then and only then upon completion without your acknowledgement that there would be any compensation, to ask for payment for his services.
We’ve discussed a number of cases in the chapter here:
Martin v Little, Brown & Co., 304 Pa. Super. 424, 450 A.2d 984 (1981).
This is a case where James Martin uncovers that a book that was published by Little, Brown & Co. was supposedly plagiarized in another title. After turning in the info to Little, Brown & Co., and without any discussion of such a finder’s fee, extends his hand hoping to receive 1/3 of the fee that they win against the plagiarizer. This is a fairly straight forward case in which the court finds that since there was no explicit conversation and agreement as to how, if at all, Martin would be compensated, that he was not entitled to such compensation. Therefore Little, Brown & Co. was not unjustly enriched through the voluntary work of Martin.
Feingold v. Pucello, 439 Pa. Super. 509, 654 A.2d 1093 (1995).
This is another case that Blum & Bushaw use to illustrate some sort of connection between tort lawyers(personal injury lawyers) and issues of professional responsibility. In this case Pucello was the victim of an automobile accident, and Feingold, a lawyer, discussed helping him out in recovering for his injuries and other damages. There is no specific discussion as to his fee, and at first he does not have Pucello sign any fee agreement. After doing some work on the case, including helping Pucello get a doctor’s appointment, getting the defendant insurance company to admit liability, and other “early stage” sorts of things that a lawyer would do in a case like this, Feingold sends the fee agreement to Pucello, with a 50% contingency. As most clients in his situation would likely do, Pucello balks at such a hefty fee and says “no thanks, I’ll find someone else to help” and refuses any of the work product from Feingold. Feingold sues seeking some portion of the fee that he feels that he is entitled to for the work he has done thus far. The court finds that since there is no contract, and the reason behind Pucello rejecting the fee agreement is the absurd level of the contingency, that Feingold is not entitled to a fee or a portion of the fee in this case.
In Estate of Cleveland v. Gorden, 837 S.W.2d 68 (1992) we look at the only case this chapter where the one who feels another is unjustly enriched actually wins the case. Here, the niece of a decedent is attempting to be reimbursed by the estate for monies that she output through the course of her aunt’s lifetime, and the time approaching death. These expenses included medical expenses, and other related expenses. The court in this case found that Ms. Gorden was acting out of a sense of family or moral obligation, and that the decedent knew that she expected to be reimbursed for her expenses that she made on Ms. Cleveland’s behalf. Normally, however, one who voluntarily and officiously pays another’s debts is not entitled to reimbursement unless the payment is made under the compulsion of moral obligation. The court seems to specifically draw such a line between the scenarios of moral obligation and generosity.
Good times in contracts 2, and off to a good start.