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Quantum Meruit & Unjust Enrichment

Posted by James Juo | Nov 02, 2022 | 0 Comments

“In Colorado, the doctrine of quantum meruit is synonymous with the doctrine of unjust enrichment.” Cahey v. IBM Corp., No. 20-cv-00781-NYW, 2020 WL 5203787 (Sept. 1, 2020) (citing Dudding v. Norton Frickey & Assocs., 11 P.3d 441, 444 (Colo. 2000).

“Quantum meruit is an equitable theory of recovery that arises out of the need to avoid unjust enrichment to a party in the absence of an actual agreement to pay for services rendered.” Tegu v. Vestal Design Atelier LLC, 407 F. Supp. 3d 1171, 1181 (D. Colo. 2019) (quoting Melat, Pressman & Higbie, L.L.P. v. Hannon Law Firm, L.L.C., 287 P.3d 842, 847 (Colo. 2012)).

Neither quantum meruit nor unjust enrichment depends on the existence of a contract, either express or implied in fact, but rather each “seeks to restore fairness when a contract fails by ensuring that the party receiving the benefit of the bargain pays a reasonable sum for that benefit.” Matter of Gilbert, 346 P.3d 1018, 1023 (Colo. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Van Zanen v. Qwest Wireless, L.L.C., 522 F.3d 1127, 1130 (10th Cir. 2008) (explaining that, under Colorado law, unjust enrichment is a judicially created remedy designed to avoid benefit to one to the unfair detriment of another); cf. Robinson v. Colo. State Lottery Div., 179 P.3d 998, 1007-08 (Colo. 2008) (holding that an unjust enrichment claim may sound in tort when based on alleged fraud).

A plausible quantum meruit claim requires that (1) the defendant received a benefit, (2) at plaintiff's expense, and (3) it would be unjust under the circumstances to allow the defendant to retain that benefit without paying for it. Crew Tile Distribution, Inc. v. Porcelanosa Los Angeles, Inc., No. 13-CV-3206-WJM-KMT, 2016 WL 8609397, at *15 (D. Colo. Sept. 9, 2016) (citing Dudding, 11 P.3d at 445); Menocal v. GEO Grp., Inc., 882 F.3d 905, 923 (10th Cir. 2018) (explaining that a claim for unjust enrichment requires the plaintiff to plead the same three elements (citing Lewis v. Lewis, 189 P.3d 1134, 1141 (Colo. 2008))).

Generally, a party may not recover under a theory of quantum meruit or unjust enrichment when there is an express contract addressing the subject of the alleged obligation to pay. Interbank Invs., LLC v. Eagle River Water & Sanitation Dist., 77 P.3d 814, 816 (Colo. App. 2003) (explaining that claims for quantum meruit or unjust enrichment cannot lie where an express contract covers the payment obligations).

There may be instances, however, where the plaintiff is entitled to compensation under a theory of unjust enrichment “even in the face of a contract with a clearly expressed contrary intent, if justice requires.” Martinez v. Colo. Dep't of Human Servs., 97 P.3d 152, 159 (Colo. App. 2003).

In addition, quantum meruit or unjust enrichment may apply where “(1) the express contract fails or is rescinded, or (2) the claim covers matters that are outside of or arose after the contract.” Pulte Home Corp., Inc. v. Countryside Cmty. Ass'n, Inc., 382 P.3d 821, 833 (Colo. 2016) (internal citation omitted).

Also, an implied contract does not preclude a claim for quantum meruit or unjust enrichment where the plaintiff seeks to restore fairness where that contract fails. Matter of Gilbert, 346 P.3d at 1023.

The attorneys at Thomas P. Howard, LLC litigate business and contract cases in Colorado.

About the Author

James Juo

James Juo is an experienced intellectual property attorney. He has successfully litigated various intellectual property disputes involving patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. He also has counseled clients on the scope and validity of patent and trademark rights.


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