Quantum Meruit in Debt Collection
Quantum meruit can apply to contracts for goods as well as services.
“The Fifth District Court has described quantum meruit as the legal doctrine which, in the absence of an express agreement, imposes legal liability on a contract that the law implies from facts where one receives goods or services from another under circumstances where in the normal course of common affairs a reasonable person receiving such benefit would ordinarily expect to pay for it.” W.R. Townsend Contracting, Inc. v. Jensen Civil Const., Inc., 728 So. 2d 297, 305 (Fla. 1st DCA 1999) (emphasis added).
Quantum meruit essentially is the proposition that in an implied contract situation, one party can seek restitution for goods or services, despite the lack of an express contract. Imagine if the Statute of Frauds barred an oral contract that you had performed on. For example, I offer you $1,000 to paint my house once its done being built, 13 months from now, you perform on the date and seek payment. I claim the Statute of Frauds bars oral contracts that cannot be performed within 1 year, and you’re out your costs and without any profit you expected from the deal. The measure of damages for quantum meruit is the reasonable price of the goods or services at the time of performance. Robinson v. Albanese, 636 So. 2d 831, 834 (Fla. 5th DCA 1994).
Notwithstanding the example above, quantum meruit requires an implied, rather than express, contract. “A contract implied in fact is one form of an enforceable contract; it is based on a tacit promise, one that is inferred in whole or in part from the parties’ conduct, not solely from their words.” Commerce P’ship 8098 Ltd. P’ship v. Equity Contracting Co., Inc., 695 So. 2d 383, 385 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997) (this case goes into an excellent discussion on implied contracts). More aptly, in our construction example above, we neglect to spell out terms for the painting of my house, yet you do it anyway and I refuse to pay. Clearly, you are owed something despite us never agreeing to it.
“The elements of a cause of action for a quasi contract are that: (1) the plaintiff has conferred a benefit on the defendant; (2) the defendant has knowledge of the benefit; (3) the defendant has accepted or retained the benefit conferred and (4) the circumstances are such that it would be inequitable for the defendant to retain the benefit without paying fair value for it.” Commerce P’ship 8098 Ltd. P’ship v. Equity Contracting Co., Inc., 695 So. 2d 383, 386 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997), as modified on clarification (June 4, 1997). Note that this definition does make any distinction between whether the benefit is goods or services.
The primary difference between quantum meruit and unjust enrichment appears to be that quantum meruit sounds in law, where unjust enrichment sounds in equity. Bowleg v. Bowe, 502 So. 2d 71, 72 (Fla. 3d DCA 1987). To be applicable, equitable remedies require that there be no adequate remedy at law. Id. However, a more significant difference is that quantum meruit can be raised when no formal contract, oral or written, has been formed.
In sum, quantum meruit can apply to goods or services, is based on “implied” contracts, and the measure of damages is “reasonable” as determined by the trier of fact.