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Caputo v. Del Conte

A-6265-02T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2004) (Unpublished)

DEEDS; QUANTUM MERUIT—Monies spent by a daughter on a house she unduly influenced her mother to give to her, which house she was required to give back, are not recoverable where the daughter cannot rebut the presumption that financial assistance given to a parent is a gift and not an advance.

A daughter moved into her mother’s home to care for her after the death of her father. After moving in, she spent a large sum to improve the house and also helped her mother pay various expenses. The mother lacked sufficient assets to either maintain the house or pay for the improvements without the daughter’s assistance. While being taken to the hospital after falling out of bed, the mother executed a deed conveying her house to her daughter. After the mother returned home from the hospital, the relationship between the two deteriorated, and the mother demanded that her daughter leave the house. She refused, and reminded her mother about the deed. In response, the mother sued to have it set aside. The daughter counterclaimed, claiming that she was entitled to be reimbursed for what she had paid over the course of her stay. She based her claim on the theories of unjust enrichment and quantum meruit.

The lower court held that a confidential relationship existed between mother and daughter and set aside the conveyance as having resulted from undue influence. It held that the mother did not understand the ramifications of the transfer. As to the daughter’s counterclaim, the lower court found that she had failed to establish that her mother was enriched by her financial assistance, aside from expert testimony that the property had increased in value. The lower court further held that even if the mother had been enriched, there was no proof that it was unjust because there was no evidence that the money was expended by the daughter with the expectation of repayment. Although the lower court found that the daughter had made the expenditures partly based on her belief that the home would eventually be hers, such a reason was insufficient to entitle the daughter to reimbursement.

On appeal, the daughter contended that she was entitled to reimbursement because the deed had been transferred to her and, therefore, her expenditures were made under the mistaken belief that the house was hers. The Appellate Division agreed that the law generally implies a promise on the part of a recipient to pay for services rendered by another where the services are voluntarily accepted. On the other hand, there is no implied promise to pay for services rendered by members of a family living in the same household because such services are ordinarily gratuitously performed. Here the Court pointed out that the daughter herself testified that her contributions were made to help her mother because she wanted her mother to be comfortable following her father’s death. Accordingly, the Court held that the mother was not unjustly enriched because the evidence did not support the conclusion that the daughter made the payments with the expectation that her mother would repay her.

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