James L. Martin (Appellant) wrote a letter advising a publisher that portions of a paperback had been plagiarized by a later book, which he offered to send to them. Little, Brown & Company (Appellee) sued for copyright infringement, and Appellant demanded compensation for his services.
A contract requires bargained-for exchange: a legal detriment and a legal benefit. An implied contract may be found where circumstances authorize the performing party to have a reasonable expectation of payment. As a general rule, volunteers have no right to restitution under a quasi-contract theory.
The Appellee denied that it had contracted with the Appellant or owed him any money for services, but instead issued an honorarium check for $200. Rather than cashing the check the Appellant sued for 1/3 of the recovery affected by the Appellee. The facts were admitted by the Appellee’s demurrer.
The trial court held that a contract had not been made, and there could be no recovery in quantum meruit where the Appellant volunteered information that enabled the Appellee to recover against a third party for copyright infringement.
Was the Appellant entitled to recover from the Appellee?
No. Affirmed. The claim was properly dismissed.
The facts were insufficient to establish a contractual relationship between the parties. The letters between the parties did not attempt to negotiate in any way.
The Appellant volunteered the information, and could not have had a reasonable expectation of payment from the outset to give rise to an implied contract.
The Appellant also could not recover on a quasi-contract theory because there was not unjust enrichment, or wrongful benefit, retained by the Appellee.
The Appellant voluntarily notified the publisher of the plagiarism and corresponded without mentioning any expectation of payment in return. There was no contract, and the Appellant was not entitled to any recovery for his gratuitous actions.