Callano v. Oakwood Park Homes Corp.

91 N.J. Super. 105, 219 A.2d 332 (1966)

Quick Summary

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Julia Callano and Frank Callano (plaintiffs) delivered and planted shrubbery for Bruce Pendergast, who had a purchase agreement with Oakwood Park Homes Corp. (defendant). After Pendergast’s death and cancellation of his property purchase, Oakwood sold the property with the plaintiffs’ shrubbery to new owners without paying for it.

The dispute revolved around whether Oakwood should pay the Callanos under quasi-contract for unjust enrichment. The Superior Court of New Jersey reversed a prior judgment favoring the Callanos, holding that Oakwood was not unjustly enriched as they had no direct relationship with the Callanos.

Facts of the Case

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Julia Callano and Frank Callano (plaintiffs) operated a plant nursery and had an agreement with Bruce Pendergast to deliver and plant shrubbery on a property he intended to purchase from Oakwood Park Homes Corp. (Oakwood) (defendant). After completing the work, Pendergast passed away without settling the invoice for the landscaping services.

The estate of Pendergast and Oakwood later agreed to cancel the property sale. Oakwood then sold the property, now enhanced with the plaintiffs’ shrubbery, to new buyers. The Callanos sought payment for their work from Oakwood, claiming the company benefited unjustly from the improvement to the property without compensating them.

Procedural Posture and History

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  1. The Callanos were awarded a judgment in the Monmouth County District Court.
  2. Oakwood appealed the decision to the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.

I.R.A.C. Format


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Whether Oakwood Park Homes Corp. was liable to pay for the shrubbery under the theory of quasi-contractual liability, based on unjust enrichment.

Rule of Law

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Quasi-contractual obligations are imposed by law, not based on agreement but on reason and justice. A key principle is that no person should unjustly enrich themselves at another’s expense.

Reasoning and Analysis

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The court deliberated on whether Oakwood was unjustly enriched by the shrubbery planted by the Callanos and if such enrichment was inequitable. The court examined precedents and principles surrounding quasi-contracts, focusing on whether plaintiffs expected compensation from the defendant at the time of providing service, and if any direct relationship or mistake was present between the parties.

Ultimately, the court determined that since the Callanos expected payment from Pendergast and had no direct dealings with Oakwood, it would be inequitable to hold Oakwood liable. The court reasoned that the plaintiffs’ remedy should be with Pendergast’s estate, not Oakwood.


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The Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, reversed the lower court’s decision, concluding that Oakwood was not unjustly enriched and thus not liable for the value of the shrubbery.

Key Takeaways

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  1. The court differentiates between actual contracts and quasi-contracts based on duty rather than agreement.
  2. A key element in quasi-contract cases is whether the plaintiff expected payment from the defendant when providing service.
  3. In absence of direct dealings or mistake between parties, quasi-contractual liability may not apply.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What determines if a party has received unjust enrichment in the absence of a contract?

An unjust enrichment claim requires demonstrating that a benefit was conferred upon the defendant, the defendant appreciated or knew of the benefit, and that it would be inequitable for the defendant to retain the benefit without paying for its value.

  • For example: A homeowner mistakenly builds a fence on a neighbor’s property. The neighbor, knowing this, allows it and enjoys the added privacy and security. Here, the neighbor may be unjustly enriched for receiving a benefit (fence) without paying.

How is a quasi-contractual obligation established when there is no express agreement?

Courts impose quasi-contractual obligations based on equitable principles to prevent one party from being unjustly enriched at the expense of another. They look at whether it would be unjust for the defendant to retain benefits without payment, even in the absence of an express agreement.

  • For example: If a person receives emergency medical services while unconscious, they may be obligated to pay under quasi-contract because equity demands that they not benefit from the service without providing compensation.

In what situations can direct dealings between parties affect claims for unjust enrichment?

A claim for unjust enrichment is affected by direct dealings because it may indicate an understanding or expectation on behalf of both parties regarding compensation. Without such dealings, implying an obligation to pay may become more difficult.

  • For example: A landscaper who maintains a lawn based on a nod from a homeowner each week has direct dealings which could imply an expectation of payment, potentially supporting an unjust enrichment claim.


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