Mullins v. First Night Wayne

326 N.J. Super. 93, 740 A.2d 681 (App. Div. 1999)
  • Opinion Date: November 23, 1999

CONTRACTS; QUASI-CONTRACT—Where a municipality has no duty to provide entertainment to its citizens, it can’t be liable for the failure of an independent sponsoring organization’s failure to pay performers for work at a community-wide event.

An organization was incorporated to organize and run a variety of non-alcohol related New Year’s Eve entertainment events within a municipality. The principals approached the municipality and requested use of some of its facilities. The municipality permitted the use of the facilities and of two of its buses to shuttle participants between different venues. It also supplied off-duty police officers to assist with security. The organization also contracted with two musicians to perform on New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately, the event was financially unsuccessful and the musicians did not get paid. The musicians sued the organization and the municipality. At trial, the municipality pointed out that the musicians’ contract was with the organization. It contended that it therefore had no legal responsibility to pay the musicians because the organizer was an independent entity. The lower court found that although there was no privity of contract between the musicians and the municipality, the municipality had received a benefit as a result of the event having been held. It concluded that since the municipality had received the benefit, it would be unjustly enriched if the musicians were not paid for their efforts. In reaching this conclusion, it relied on a 1996 decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court in which a municipality had consented to the formation of a regional sewerage authority and entered into negotiations for its creation. Ultimately, in that earlier case, the municipality withdrew from the project, making the regional proposal unfeasible. Considerable costs had been incurred throughout the negotiating process and the New Jersey Supreme Court, relying on the principles of quasi-contract (also referred to as a contract implied in law), held that because that particular municipality had an obligation to explore methods of providing safe waste water treatment facilities, it should bear the costs associated in planning such a facility. Here, however, the Appellate Division found that there was no comparable duty and no comparable benefit. Hence, it was satisfied that the doctrine of quasi-contract was inapplicable as a matter of law. “Surely, a municipality is under no duty to sponsor entertainment programs for its citizens, no matter how worthwhile they may be.” Because this was not the type of benefit that could support a finding of unjust enrichment against the municipality, the Appellate Division reversed the lower court.