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Restitution, Unjust Enrichment, Breach of Contract

Restitution/unjust enrichment are legal theories and causes of action which simultaneously act as a sort of “catch all” in litigation and a safeguard against inequities. For example, assume that you enter into what you believe to be a valid contract with another individual. You perform exhaustive amounts of services for the other individual under the terms of the supposed contract. Assume further that the contract is invalid based on a technicality. Although you may not be able to maintain an action for breach of contract against the other person for failure to tender payment, what else can be done?

The equitable theory of restitution may provide recourse. A person who has been unjustly enriched at the expense of another is required to make restitution to the other. The idea against unjust enrichment emerged against the grain of the common law forms of action then available for remedy and with the aid of the restitution devices of the equity court.  The common law courts overcame this limitation on remedies imposed by the forms of action through the fiction of quasi contract. The law gave to a plaintiff against a defendant “under an obligation, from the ties of natural justice, to refund,” an action ”as if it were upon a contract.” The right to restitution for unjust enrichment presupposes: (1) that the defendant was enriched by the receipt of a benefit; (2) that the enrichment was at the expense of the plaintiff; and (3) that it would be unjust to allow the defendant to retain the benefit.

As a result, if you provided a benefit to the other person in the previous example, the other person indeed received a benefit, and if it would be unjust to allow him/her to retain the benefit, then you may be entitled to just compensation via restitution.

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