Written by attorney Casey B. Green

Unjust Enrichment Claims in Pennsylvania

Under Pennsylvania law, “when a person receives a benefit from another, and it would be unconscionable for the recipient to retain that benefit, the doctrine of unjust enrichment requires the recipient to make restitution.... This equitable doctrine imposes on the recipient an obligation in the nature of quasi contract." Myers-Macomber Engineers v. M.L.W. Construction Corp., 271 Pa.Super. 484, 414 A.2d 357 (1979). The doctrine of promissory estoppel can sometimes be used to enforce a promise that induced justifiable reliance even where there is not consideration. Similarly, the concept of unjust enrichment serves the purpose of allowing for the enforcement of obligations that may not qualify as contractual. However, restitution for unjust enrichment is not predicated on a promise but on the restoration of an unfair gain. The cause of action of unjust enrichment arises where one party has obtained a benefit at the expense of another under circumstances that make it unfair for the recipient to retain the benefit without paying for it.

In Pennsylvania, where unjust enrichment is found, the law implies a contract, which requires the defendant to pay to the plaintiff the value of the benefit conferred. Schenck v. K.E. David, Ltd., 446 Pa.Super. 94, 666 A.2d 327 (1995). The elements necessary to prove unjust enrichment are:(1) benefits conferred on defendant by plaintiff; (2) appreciation of such benefits by defendant; and (3) acceptance and retention of such benefits under such circumstances that it would be inequitable for defendant to retain the benefit without payment of value. Id.

The application of the doctrine of unjust enrichment depends on the particular factual circumstances of the case at issue. In determining if the doctrine applies, the court’s focus is not on the intention of the parties, but rather on whether the defendant has been unjustly enriched.Id., 666 A.2d at 328. Accord Torchia v. Torchia, 346 Pa.Super. 229, 499 A.2d 581, 582 (1985) (“[t]o sustain a claim of unjust enrichment, a claimant must show that the party against whom recovery is sought either ‘wrongfully secured or passively received a benefit that it would be unconscionable for her to retain.’ ")

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