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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. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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