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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. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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