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COA rules on unjust enrichment issue for first time

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For the first time, the Indiana Court of Appeals addressed an issue involving express contracts and equitable remedies and decided that the existence of a contract, in and of itself, doesn’t preclude equitable relief which isn’t inconsistent with the contract.

In Steven A. Coppolillo v. Anthony Cort, No. 45A05-1007-PL-433, Steven A. Coppolillo, a chef at Zuni’s Restaurant, negotiated to purchase Anthony Cort’s ownership in Zuncor, which owned the restaurant. While making monthly payments to Cort, the restaurant property was sold and the restaurant closed shortly after because Zuncor didn’t establish a new location for the restaurant after the lease ended. Coppolillo lost his investment in Zuncor and sued Cort for unjust enrichment.

Cort argued that the claim is barred because Cort sold his share in Zuncor to Coppolillo pursuant to a written agreement, so any remedy must be sought under the contract rather than in equity. Senior Judge Betty Barteau noted that other jurisdictions have determined that when an express contract doesn’t fully address a subject, a court of equity may impose a remedy to further the ends of justice.

The evidence shows that the parties’ payment arrangements for Cort’s share of Zuncor aren’t fully controlled by their agreement, so the contract doesn’t preclude the claim in equity against Cort of unjust enrichment.

Regarding Coppolillo’s claim, the judges found there to be a material dispute of fact as to whether Cort was unjustly enriched, so he isn’t entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law as the trial court had ruled. They also rejected Cort’s claim that Coppolillo isn’t entitled to equitable relief because Coppolillo has unclean hands.

Judge Barteau wrote there is at best a dispute of fact as to whether Coppolillo engaged in wrongdoing when he ended his relationship with Zuncor and took a job in Chicago, even though Zuncor continued to operate two other restaurants.

The judges reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to Cort and remanded for further proceedings.

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  • good opinion
    Excellent reasoning by appellate judge and a decent article summary by this paper. Well done.

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  1. It is amazing how selectively courts can read cases and how two very similar factpatterns can result in quite different renderings. I cited this very same argument in Brown v. Bowman, lost. I guess it is panel, panel, panel when one is on appeal. Sad thing is, I had Sykes. Same argument, she went the opposite. Her Rooker-Feldman jurisprudence is now decidedly unintelligible.

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  5. Charles Rice was one of the greatest of the so-called great generation in America. I was privileged to count him among my mentors. He stood firm for Christ and Christ's Church in the Spirit of Thomas More, always quick to be a good servant of the King, but always God's first. I had Rice come speak to 700 in Fort Wayne as Obama took office. Rice was concerned that this rise of aggressive secularism and militant Islam were dual threats to Christendom,er, please forgive, I meant to say "Western Civilization". RIP Charlie. You are safe at home.

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