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Business litigation cases frequently assert claims of unjust enrichment that fail to satisfy the requirements of Florida law.  Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal in Gonzalez v. Eagle Insurance Co., 948 So.2d 1 (Fla. 3d DCA 2006), explained that, “[a]t the core of the law of restitution and unjust enrichment is the principle that the party who has been unjustly enriched at the expense of another is required to make restitution to the other.”  Frito v. Attorney’s Title Insurance Fund, Inc., 83 So.3d 755 (Fla. 3d DCA 2011), set forth the elements for an unjust enrichment claim under Florida law, requiring the plaintiff to prove that (1) the plaintiff conferred a benefit on the defendant, (2) the defendant voluntarily accepted and retained the benefit, and (3) it would be inequitable for the defendant to retain the benefit without paying the value of the benefit to the plaintiff.  However, precedent from the Supreme Court of Florida in Kopel v. Kopel, 229 So.2d 812 (Fla. 2017), explained an important qualification on these elements: the plaintiff must directly confer a benefit on the defendant.  Peter Mavrick a Miami business litigation attorney, and represents clients in Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, and Palm  Beach. The Mavrick Law Firm represents businesses and their owners in breach of contract litigation and related claims of fraud, non-compete agreement litigation, trade secret litigation, trademark infringement litigation, employment litigation, and other legal disputes in federal and state courts and in arbitration.

In Extraordinary Title Services, LLC v. Florida Power & Light Co., 1 So.3d 400 (Fla. 3d DCA 2009), the appellate court held the plaintiff’s unjust enrichment claim failed because the plaintiff did not prove a direct benefit had been conferred on the defendant.  Extraordinary Title Services explained that, “[i]n the instant case, the second amended complaint indicates that Plaintiff has absolutely no relationship with Group and has not conferred a direct benefit upon Group. Plaintiff contracted with FPL, not Group, for electricity; Plaintiff paid FPL, not Group; and Group provided no services to Plaintiff. Based on these facts, which are not in dispute, the Plaintiff cannot allege nor establish that it conferred a direct benefit upon Group. Therefore, we conclude that the trial court properly dismissed with prejudice the unjust enrichment claim asserted against Group.” Similarly, in People’s National Bank of Commerce v. First Union National Bank of Florida, 667 So.2d 876 (Fla. 3d DCA 1996), Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal affirmed dismissal with prejudice of an unjust enrichment count, because the plaintiff failed to allege a direct benefit given to the defendant.  In that decision, Southeast Bank had made two loans to a developer. Before making these loans, Southeast Bank made separate participation agreements with five lenders, including Peoples National. Under the participation agreements, Southeast Bank was supposed to act as the lead lender.  It was responsible for collecting payments from the developer and then remitting payments to each of the five participant lenders. Several years later, Peoples National filed an unjust enrichment action against the other four participant lenders, demanding a refund of alleged overpayments made to the four participant lenders. The appellate court rejected the plaintiff’s unjust enrichment claim, holding in pertinent part, “[h]ere, the plaintiff, Peoples National, could not and did not allege that it had directly conferred a benefit on the defendants, the other participant lenders. In actuality, if any benefit was conferred upon each participant lender in the form of overpayments, it could only have been conferred upon them by Southeast, not Peoples National. Because Peoples National failed to allege ultimate facts that support a prima facie case of unjust enrichment, the trial court properly dismissed with prejudice that count against the other participant lenders.”

Peter Mavrick is a Miami business litigation lawyer, and represents clients in Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, and Palm Beach. This article does not serve as a substitute for legal advice tailored to a particular situation.

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