News & Noteworthy

Authored - NJ Contract Law Update - Can Unjust Enrichment Be Treated As An Alternative Legal Theory, Despite A Contract?
AUGUST 20, 2013 | Windels Marx - Commercial Litigation

Clean Earth Dredging Technologies v. SLRD Company, 2013 WL 1873082 (D.N.J. May 2, 2013), indicates that "unjust enrichment" cannot be used as a substitute "where an express contract governs the rights of the parties involved". Rather, the main breach-of-contract claim is what should control. However, interestingly, the court added in a footnote:

  • The Court's denial of summary judgment here does not prevent [plaintiff]...from raising [this] unjust enrichment claim at trial as an alternative theory of liability should its breach of contract claim fail.

Thus, the Court seemingly does not go as far as other decisions, which have implied that the unjust enrichment count should be dismissed entirely when there is a breach of contract clearly covering the same subject matter. These conflicting approaches give the practitioner plenty of room to maneuver.
Finally, on a separate point, the Clean Earth Court explained that in the case of a party's change of status (from exclusive to non-exclusive licensee), that party could not assert that the contract was no longer applicable, since that contingency was expressly envisioned in the contract.

Contact & Legal Disclaimer

Clark Alpert is the author of Guide to New Jersey Contract Law, published by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education, originally published in 2007 and updated in November 2011. His updates on New Jersey contract law are based in recent issues and practical methods for addressing similar situations in your practice or business. They are not intended to serve as legal advice. Clark welcomes your questions and comments.

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