Legal Memorandum: Elements of an Unjust Enrichment Claim

Issue: What are the elements of a claim for unjust enrichment?

Area of Law: Business Organizations & Contracts
Keywords: Unjust enrichment; Elements of claim; Williston approach
Jurisdiction: Federal
Cited Cases: 832 A.2d 501
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 07/01/2007

Generally speaking, three elements must be established in order for a plaintiff to succeed in a claim for unjust enrichment:  there must be “(1) a benefit conferred on the defendant by the plaintiff; (2) an appreciation or knowledge by the defendant of the benefit; and (3) the acceptance or retention by the defendant of the benefit under such circumstances as to make it inequitable for the defendant to retain the benefit without payment of its value.”  Richard A. Lord, 26 Williston on Contracts § 68:5 (4th ed. 2007). 

Courts in Third Circuit states are in accord with the Williston approach.  One Pennsylvania case, for instance, similarly states that the elements of a cause of action for unjust enrichment are (1) benefits conferred on the defendant by the plaintiff, (2) appreciation of such benefits by the defendant, and (3) acceptance and retention of those benefits under such circumstances that it would be inequitable for the defendant to retain the benefits without payment of their value. See Konidaris v. Portnoff Law Assocs., Ltd., 884 A.2d 348 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2005) (citing Temple Univ. Hosp., Inc. v. Healthcare Mgmt. Alternatives, Inc., 832 A.2d 501 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2003)). 

The Konidaris court explained that the most significant element of the claim is whether the enrichment of the defendant is unjust.  In other words, the doctrine does not apply simply because the defendant has benefited as a result of the plaintiff’s actions.