Reversing Course: A Critique of the Court of Appeals New Rules for Unjust Enrichment and Criminal Legal Malpractice Actions

By Carlisle, Jay C., II | Albany Law Review, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Reversing Course: A Critique of the Court of Appeals New Rules for Unjust Enrichment and Criminal Legal Malpractice Actions


Carlisle, Jay C., II, Albany Law Review


I. INTRODUCTION

This article will discuss recent developments by the Court of Appeals on the doctrine of unjust enrichment and on the elimination of non-pecuniary damages in criminal legal malpractice actions. Specifically, the article will examine the cases of Georgia Malone & Co. v. Ralph Rieder (1) and Dombrowski v. Bulson. (2)

In Georgia Malone, a divided Court of Appeals held that a plaintiffs unjust enrichment claim could be dismissed as a matter of law at an early pleading stage. (3) The five-judge majority adopted a heightened pleading requirement, which ignores almost one hundred years of established precedent (4) and relies on unfounded policy justifications. (5) The majority's opinion disregards the equitable concerns involved and creates a mandatory pleading rule requiring a connection between the plaintiff and the defendant. (6) The court's new rule is contrary to the remedy of unjust enrichment. (7)

In Dombrowski, a unanimous Court of Appeals held a client could not seek damages for loss of liberty and emotional distress in a criminal legal malpractice action against his attorney. (8) The Dombrowski opinion is based on a faulty analysis and unproven policy rationales. (9) Also, the opinion is not in step with modern principles of law permitting recovery of non-pecuniary damages in such actions. (10) Finally, a decision to immunize defense counsel from non-pecuniary damages in criminal legal malpractice actions should be made by the legislature and not by the Court of Appeals. (11)

The Georgia Malone and Dombrowski decisions demonstrate the Court of Appeals' willingness to dismiss civil claims at the pleading stage for speculative policy justifications not included in the evidentiary record. (12) These decisions are unfortunate departures from established case law and frustrate the letter and spirit of the liberal pleading requirements in the CPLR. (13)

II. BACKGROUND--UNJUST ENRICHMENT

"The essential inquiry in any action for unjust enrichment ... is whether it is against equity and good conscience to permit the defendant to retain what is sought [by the plaintiffs] to be recovered." (14) For almost one hundred years, since its holding in Miller v. Schloss, (15) the Court of Appeals has asked if a benefit has been "conferred on the defendant under mistake of fact or law, if the benefit still remains with the defendant ... and whether the defendant's conduct was tortious or fraudulent." (16) The court's focus has been on an equity and good conscience test, (17) which, at the pleading stage, must be afforded a liberal construction with every favorable inference being given to the plaintiff. (18)

The Court of Appeals has long recognized there is a class of cases "where the law prescribes the rights and liabilities of persons who have not in reality entered into any contract at all with one another." (19) These relationships are constructive contracts based on the equitable principle that one should not be allowed to enrich oneself unjustly at the expense of another, so an obligation is created by law in the absence of an agreement. (20)

Thus in Bradkin v. Leverton, (21) the Court of Appeals reversed the unjust enrichment dismissals of lower courts. (22) Quoting Miller v. Schloss, Chief Judge Stanley Fuld stated: "[a] quasi or constructive contract rests upon the equitable principle that a person shall not be allowed to enrich himself unjustly at the expense of another." (23) Chief Judge Fuld concluded that "[a]lthough there was no agreement between them, express or implied, the defendant received a benefit from the plaintiffs services under circumstances which, in justice, preclude him from denying an obligation to pay for them." (24) Chief Judge Fuld did not rely on or analyze the relationship between the parties in terms of a connection or awareness standard. (25)

Similarly, in Paramount Film Distributing Corp. v. State of New York, (26) a divided court, speaking through Chief Judge Charles D. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Reversing Course: A Critique of the Court of Appeals New Rules for Unjust Enrichment and Criminal Legal Malpractice Actions
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.