Quantum Meruit, Quasi Contract or Unjust Enrichment
“Quantum meruit” [Latin “as much as he has deserved”] is the reasonable value of services; damages awarded in an amount considered reasonable to compensate a person who has rendered services in a quasi-contractual relationship. It is a claim or right of action for the reasonable value of services rendered. The doctrine of quantum meruit generally applies to an action for restitution involving work and labor performed which is founded on an oral promise on the part of the defendant to pay the plaintiff as much as the plaintiff reasonably deserves for his labor in the absence of an agreed-upon amount.
The doctrine of quantum meruit generally applies to an action for restitution involving work and labor performed which is founded on an oral promise on the part of the defendant to pay the plaintiff as much as the plaintiff reasonably deserves for his labor in the absence of an agreed-upon amount.
To recover in quantum meruit, a party must establish legal liability on either an implied-in-fact contract or unjust enrichment basis. The distinction between the two theories, quantum meruit and unjust enrichment, can be unclear. “One source of confusion is that quantum meruit is a cause of action in two fields: restitution and contract.” Quantum meruit historically was one of the common counts—a subspecies of the writ of indebitatus or general assumpsit—available as a remedy at law to enforce implied promises or contracts. A party who pleaded quantum meruit sought recovery of the reasonable value, or “as much as he has deserved,” for services rendered.
Thus, quantum meruit’s first application is in actions based upon contracts implied-in-fact. A contract implied-in-fact must be “manifested by conduct.” It “is a true contract that arises from the tacit agreement of the parties.” To find a contract implied-in-fact, the fact-finder must conclude that the parties intended to contract and promises were exchanged, the general obligations for which must be sufficiently clear. It is at that point that a party may invoke quantum meruit as a gap-filler to supply the absent term. Where such a contract exists, then, quantum meruit ensures the laborer receives the reasonable value, usually market price, for his services.
Quantum meruit’s other role is in providing restitution for unjust enrichment: “Liability in restitution for the market value of goods or services is the remedy traditionally known as quantum meruit.” When a plaintiff seeks “as much as he . . . deserve[s]” based on a theory of restitution (as opposed to implied-in-fact contract), he must establish each element of unjust enrichment. Quantum meruit, then, is “the usual measurement of enrichment in cases where nonreturnable benefits have been furnished at the defendant’s request, but where the parties made no enforceable agreement as to price.”
Unjust enrichment exists when the plaintiff confers a benefit on the defendant, the defendant appreciates such benefit, and there is “ ‘acceptance and retention by the defendant of such benefit under circumstances such that it would be inequitable for him to retain the benefit without payment of the value thereof.’ “ A pleading of quantum meruit for unjust enrichment does not discharge the plaintiff’s obligation to demonstrate that the defendant received a benefit from services provided.
“[B]enefit” in the unjust enrichment context can include “services beneficial to or at the request of the other,” “denotes any form of advantage,” and is not confined to retention of money or property. But while “[r]estitution may strip a wrongdoer of all profits gained in a transaction with [a] claimant . . . principles of unjust enrichment will not support the imposition of a liability that leaves an innocent recipient worse off . . . than if the transaction with the claimant had never taken place.”
Similarly, the Nevada Supreme Court has concluded that “[t]he basis of recovery on quantum meruit . . . is that a party has received from another a benefit which is unjust for him to retain without paying for it.” In Thompson, the defendant was to build a dam for the plaintiffs but the defendant’s preliminary work failed to meet state regulations and thus was rendered useless. Because the plaintiffs were required to hire a new laborer to completely rebuild the dam to code, this court held that the defendant could not recover on his counterclaim under a theory of quantum meruit because he had provided no benefit to the plaintiffs, i.e., while he began the work the plaintiffs requested, he ultimately provided no advantage to them.
In Paterson v. Condos, the Nevada Supreme Court specifically concluded that an action may be based upon quantum meruit even though an express contract exists: “The contractor may . . . base his action upon both the contract and upon a quantum meruit by setting up the former in one count, and the latter in another in his complaint.”
To put all in other words, the essential elements of quasi contract are a benefit conferred on the defendant by the plaintiff, appreciation by the defendant of such benefit, and acceptance and retention by the defendant of such benefit under circumstances such that it would be inequitable for him to retain the benefit without payment of the value thereof. Additionally, unjust enrichment occurs whenever a person has and retains a benefit which in equity and good conscience belongs to another.
See also “Unjust Enrichment.” The statute of limitations for an unjust enrichment claim is four years.
~from Elements of Claims and Defenses in Nevada by Day Williams