The Guide is an invaluable online tool for litigation and transactional attorneys. The Guide provides for more than 70 common law causes of action:

- Each action’s elements;
- The most recent state and federal cases that cite the actions’ elements;
- The applicable statute of limitations for each action; and
- Defenses to each cause of action.
- AND, The Guide is updated annually.

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Unjust Enrichment

1 Elements and Case Citations

1. Receipt of a benefit at the expense of another; and

2. Unjust retention of the benefit.

“[A] benefit is conferred not only when one adds to the property of another, but also when one saves the other from expense or loss.” Ghirardo v. Antonioli, 14 Cal. 4th 39, 51 (1996).
“The person receiving the benefit is required to make restitution only if the circumstances are such that, as between the two individuals, it is unjust for the person to retain it.” First Nationwide Savings v. Perry, 11 Cal. App. 4th 1657, 1662-63 (1992).

“‘Unjust Enrichment’ does not describe a theory of recovery, but an effect: the result of a failure to make restitution under circumstances where it is equitable to do so.” Lauriedale Associates, Ltd. v. Wilson, 7 Cal. App. 4th 1439, 1448 (1992).

Unjust enrichment “is based on the idea that ‘one person should not be permitted unjustly to enrich himself at the expense of another, but should be required to make restitution of or for property or benefits received, retained, or appropriated, where it is just and equitable that such restitution be made, and where such action involves no violation or frustration of law or opposition to public policy, either directly or indirectly.’” County of San Bernardino v. Walsh, 158 Cal. App. 4th 533, 542 (2007) (citing Dinosaur Development, Inc. v. White, 216 Cal. App. 3d 1310, 1315 (1989)).

With regard to the misappropriation of trade secrets under California’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act, California Civil Code sections 3426, et seq. “[a] complainant also may recover for the unjust enrichment caused by misappropriation that is not taken into account in computing damages for actual loss.” Cal. Civ. Code § 3426.3(a) (2013).


California Supreme Court: Ghirardo v. Antonioli, 14 Cal. 4th 39, 50-51 (1996).

California 1st Dist.: Elder v. Pac. Bell Tel. Co., 205 Cal. App. 4th 841, 857 (2012).

California 2d Dist.: County of San Bernardino v. Walsh, 158 Cal. App. 4th 533, 542 (2007); see also Lectrodryer v. Seoulbank, 77 Cal. App. 4th 723, 726 (2000).

California 3d Dist.: Collins v. eMachines, Inc., 202 Cal. App. 4th 249, 260 (2011) (affirming demurrer to unjust enrichment claim where the plaintiff had adequate remedies at law).

California 4th Dist.: Hernandez v. Lopez, 180 Cal. App. 4th 932, 938 (2009); Troyk v. Farmers Group, Inc., 171 Cal. App. 4th 1305, 1339 (2009).

California 5th Dist.: Allied Grape Growers v. Bronco Wine Co., 203 Cal. App. 3d 432, 444 (1988) (discussing recovery on the grounds of unjust enrichment where the defendant should be estopped from asserting the statute of frauds as a defense) (citing Monarco v. Lo Greco, 35 Cal.2d 621, 623-624 (1950)); Harold A. Newman Co. v. Nero, 31 Cal. App. 3d 490, 497 (1973).

California 6th Dist.: Ajaxo Inc. v. E*Trade Financial Corp., 187 Cal. App. 4th 1295, 1305 (2010); First Nationwide Savings v. Perry, 11 Cal. App. 4th 1657, 1662-63 (1992).


United States Court of Appeal for the 9th Circuit: Ohno v. Yasuma, 723 F.3d 984, 1006 (9th Cir. 2013).

Central District: Epicor Software Corp. v. Alternative Tech. Solutions, Inc., No. SACV 13-00448-CJC(RNBx), 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79125, at *18 (C.D. Cal. May 9, 2013).

Eastern District: Lewis v. William Michael Stemler, Inc., No. S-13-0574 KJM EFB, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 137885, at *13 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 25, 2013).

Northern District: Florey Inst. of Neuroscience & Mental Health v. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, No. CV 12-6504 SC, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 138904, at *21 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 26, 2013).

Southern District: Azco Biotech, Inc. v. Qiagen, No. 12-CV-2599 BEN (DHB), 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 119118, at *37 (S.D. Cal. Aug. 19, 2013).

2 Defenses to Claim for Unjust Enrichment

(1) Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 431.30(b)(2) (pleading affirmative defenses), and other standard defenses. See Chapter 1 for all defenses.

(2) Statute of Limitations: Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 339(1) (two years). “[T[he Legislature has provided a separate (two-year) limitations period covering contracts ‘not founded upon an instrument of writing’ (such as unjust enrichment).” H. Russell Taylor's Fire Prevention Service, Inc. v. Coca ..., 99 Cal. App. 3d 711, 721 n.5 (1979). However, “[a]n unjust enrichment or quasi-contract action in the form of a common count to recover money or other benefit obtained by mistake is governed by the three-year statute of limitations for actions based on fraud or mistake (i.e., [Cal. Code Civ. Proc.] § 338, subd. (d)).” Federal Deposit Ins. Corp. v. Dintino, 167 Cal. App. 4th 333, 348 (2008). The same is true if the action is based on fraud. First Nationwide Savings v. Perry, 11 Cal. App. 4th 1657, 1670 (1992).

(3) “Equitable considerations justifying restitution may constitute a defense to a restitution claim.” First Nationwide Savings v. Perry, 11 Cal. App. 4th 1657, 1663 (1992).

(4) “[R]estitution is commonly denied against an innocent transferee or beneficiary, if he has changed his position after the transaction and it is impossible or impractical to restore him to his original position.” First Nationwide Savings v. Perry, 11 Cal. App. 4th 1657, 1663 (1992).

(5) Fraud or wrongdoing by the defendant is not required for a finding of unjust enrichment. Frank v. Tavares, 142 Cal. App. 2d 683, 688 (1956).

(6) Action Not Available if there is a Contract: Unjust enrichment is an action in quasi-contract, which does not lie when an enforceable, binding agreement exists defining the rights of the parties. See Paracor Finance v. Gen. Elec. Capital Corp., 96 F.3d 1151, 1167 (9th Cir. 1996). California does not, however, preclude pleading both a claim for breach of express contract and a claim for unjust enrichment; it only prevents recovery under both. Id.

(7) Where adequate remedies at law exist, equitable remedies such as restitution for unjust enrichment are not permitted. Collins v. eMachines, Inc., 202 Cal. App. 4th 249, 260 (2011).

(8) Unclean Hands: No recovery where plaintiff “in equity has violated conscience, good faith or other equitable principles in his prior conduct” because “one who violates his contract cannot have recourse to equity to support that violation.” Fiberboard Paper Prods. Corp. v. East Bay Union of Machinists, 227 Cal. App. 2d 675, 727 (1964); see also Cal. Civ. Code § 3517.

(9) Estoppel: Seller’s alleged detrimental reliance on buyer’s overpayments constituted an affirmative defense which seller had the burden of proving in buyer’s suit for restitution. See Kern Oil and Refining Co. v. Tenneco Oil Co., 792 F.2d 1380 (9th Cir. 1986).

(10) Bona Fide Purchaser: “[A] bona fide purchaser is generally not required to make restitution. . . . By contrast, a transferee with knowledge of the circumstances giving rise to an unjust enrichment claim may be obligated to make restitution.” First Nationwide Savings v. Perry, 11 Cal. App. 4th 1657, 1663 (1992).

(11) “It is well settled that restitution will be denied where application of the doctrine would involve a violation or frustration of the law or opposition to public policy.” .” Lauriedale Associates, Ltd. v. Wilson, 7 Cal. App. 4th 1439, 1449 (1992).

(12) However, “[i]n compelling cases, illegal contracts will be enforced in order to ‘avoid unjust enrichment to a defendant and a disproportionately harsh penalty upon the plaintiff.’” Asdourian v. Araj, 38 Cal.3d 276, 292 (1985), superseded by statute on other grounds. Thus, “[w]here the public cannot be protected because the transaction has been completed, where no serious moral turpitude is involved, where the defendant is the one guilty of the greatest moral fault, and where the defendant will be unjustly enriched at the expense of the plaintiff, the rule that courts will not enforce an agreement against public policy should not be applied.” Kelton v. Stravinski, 138 Cal. App. 4th 941, 949 (2006).