Unjust Enrichment – unlawful, unjustifiable retention of property, without consent from the transferor(s), for which the beneficiary must make restitution or recompense

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unjust enrichment:

1. The retention of a benefit conferred by another, who offered no compensationin circumstances where compensation is reasonably expected.

2. A benefit obtained from another, not intended as a gift & not legally justifiable, for which the beneficiary must make restitution or recompense.  Unjust enrichment is a basis of a civil liability involving a claim for recovery that sometimes also goes by the name of restitution. Instances of unjust enrichment typically arise when property is transferred by an act of wrongdoing (as by
conversion or breach of fiduciary duty), or without the effective consent of the transferor (as in a case of mistake), or when a benefit is conferred deliberately but without a contract, and the court concludes that the absence of a contract is excusable — as when the benefit was provided in an emergency, or when parties once seemed to have a contract but it turns out to be invalid. The resulting claim of unjust enrichment seeks to recover the defendant’s gains.

3. The area of law dealing with unjustifiable benefits of this kind. [1]

1. The circumstances which give rise to the obligation of restitution, that is, the receiving and retention of property, money, or benefits which in justice and equity belong to another.  Herrmann v Gleason (CA6 Mich) 126 F2d 936; Straube v Bowling Green Gas Co. 360 Mo 132, 227 SW2d 666, 18 ALR2d 1335. [2]

1. The equitable doctrine that a person who unjustly receives property, money, or other benefits that belong to another may not retain them and is obligated to return them.  The remedy of restitution is based upon the principle that equity will not permit unjust enrichment.  EXAMPLE: Sam promises to convey Blackacre to Robin if Robin builds a house and barn on the property; Robin builds the house and barn, but Sam refuses to convey Blackacre to Robin.  Because Sam has been unjustly enriched, a court will order him to pay Robin for the improvement of his property. [3]

Related Terms:

action de in rem verso – an action for unjust enrichment wherein the plaintiff must show (i) an enrichment was bestowed (ii) it caused an impoverishment (iii) there is no justification (iv) the plaintiff has no other adequate remedy at law, including no remedy under an express or implied contract.

restitution – especially in cases of unjust enrichment (i.e. fraud and theft), compensation paid by a criminal to a victim, not awarded in a civil trial, but ordered as part of a criminal sentence or as a condition of probation.

Types of Crimes that
Typically involve Unjust Enrichment:

fraud – a knowing misrepresentation or concealment of a material fact made to induce another to part with anything of value or surrender some legal right.

theft – taking something to which one is not entitled, by whatever means (i.e. robbery, burglary, embezzlement, extortion, fraud).


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[1]: Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black & Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-62130-6

[2]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary with Pronunciations
Third Edition
 by James A. Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Edited by William S. Anderson.  © 1969 by THE LAWYER’S CO-OPERATIVE PUBLISHING COMPANY.  Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 68-30931

[3]:  Ballantine’s Law Dictionary Legal Assistant Edition
by Jack Ballantine 
(James Arthur 1871-1949).  Doctored by Jack G. Handler, J.D. © 1994 Delmar by Thomson Learning.  ISBN 0-8273-4874-6.


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