The doctrine of unjust enrichment allows a plaintiff to recover from a defendant, without the benefit of an enforceable contractual obligation, where the defendant has unfairly benefited from the plaintiff’s efforts without compensation. In New York, the elements of an unjust enrichment claim are “that (1) the other party was enriched, (2) at that party’s expense, and (3) that it is against equity and good conscience to permit the other party to retain what is sought to be recovered.” Mandarin Trading Ltd. v. Wildenstein, 16 N.Y. 3d 173, 182 (2011).
As the viability of an unjust enrichment claim depends on broad considerations of equity and justice, several factors can drive the determination of whether these elements are adequately pleaded or later proven. For one, a close relationship between the plaintiff and defendant is required. In addition, the plaintiff’s actions must have been induced in reliance on that relationship. Finally, essential to the claim is the absence of a valid contractual relationship governing the acts giving rise to the claim. We examine recent commercial division decisions addressing the application of these factors.
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Special thanks to Kajon Pompey, a law clerk in our New York office, for her assistance in the preparation of this article.
Reprinted with permission from the April 18, 2019 edition of the New York Law Journal.