By: Diana Adjadj Esq.
July 29, 2022
Unjust enrichment is an equitable cause of action where one person is unjustly enriched at the expense of another. In this situation the plaintiff is permitted to bring a cause of action under the laws of equity. The law of equity imposes an obligation on the individual who was unjustly enriched at the other expense of another to make restitution.
Unjust enrichment is often plead in the alternative with other causes of action. Unjust enrichment is most often alleged simultaneously in cases of fraud and/or breach of contract. In these instances, the finder of fact may not find sufficient intent to satisfy the elements of fraud or may conclude that a contract was not formed between the parties to prevail on a breach of contract claim. However, the finder of fact may conclude that the defendant was unjustly enriched at the expense of another, finding for the plaintiff.
To prevail on a claim for unjust enrichment the plaintiff must prove that the defendant was unjustly enriched at the plaintiff’s expenses.
Unjust Enrichment is codified in Jury Instruction CACI: California Civil Jury Instruction § 4410, which defines a cause of action for unjust enrichment as follows:
“Defendant was unjustly enriched if the defendant’s misappropriation of plaintiff’s ‘property’ caused the defendant to receive a benefit that the defendant otherwise would not have achieved.
To decide the amount of any unjust enrichment, first determine the value of the defendant’s benefit that would not have been achieved except for the misappropriation. Then subtract from that amount, the defendant’s reasonable expenses.
In calculating the amount of any unjust enrichment, do not take into account any amount that you included in determining damages for plaintiff’s actual loss.” – CACI § 4410 – Unjust Enrichment
Compensatory Damages: When evaluating compensatory damages the jury looks to the plaintiff and allocates what they believe will make the injured party whole; in other words the jury looks to compensate the plaintiff for their injuries and damages. When making a determination as to compensatory damages the jury considers the plaintiff’s actual loss.
Restitution: When determining restitution in an unjust enrichment claim the jury determines damages by considering the benefit the defendant received. Restitution does not consider the plaintiff’s loss or damages. When determining restitution, the jury evaluates the benefit the defendant received unjustly from the wrongful misappropriation.