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Palmeri v. LG Electronics USA, Inc.

2008 WL 2945985 (U.S. Dist. Ct. D. N.J. 2008) (Unpublished)

DAMAGES — Even though the doctrine of unjust enrichment is a quasi-contractual remedy, it remains an independent remedy capable of supplementing any contractual remedy and a party may plead the doctrine as an alternative ro claim for recovery on the contract itself.

A buyer of a refrigerator sued a manufacturer and others claiming that the refrigerator’s dispensed water contained high levels of toxic chemicals. The buyer asserted claims of consumer fraud, breach of express warranty, breach of implied warranty of merchantability, strict product liability, and unjust enrichment. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss. The Court devoted its opinion to discussion of the following claims.

First, the Court first stated that a motion to dismiss can be granted only if the lawsuit contains enough plausible facts on its face to state a claim to relief. Courts will not accept bald assertions, unsupported conclusions, unwarranted inferences or sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations.

As to the claim of consumer fraud, the Court found that the buyer had to raise facts that could permit relief above a speculative level. It concluded that the complaint alleged no specific facts that plausibly suggested violations of consumer protection laws, and therefore failed to place the manufacturer and others on notice of the precise misconduct with which they were charged. Thus, the Court dismissed the claim, without prejudice, to allow the buyer to replead more precise allegations of consumer fraud law.

The Court allowed the claim for strict product liability. The motion to dismiss alleged that the buyer was solely claiming economic loss. The Court found that the buyer was seeking actual damages in alleging that the refrigerator produced contamination which presented a risk to the buyer’s health. The Court stated protecting people from dangerous products represents the core of strict liability law.

The Court also permitted the claim for unjust enrichment. The motion to dismiss alleged that relief for unjust enrichment was precluded by the existence of a governing contract. The Court pointed out that the doctrine of unjust enrichment is a quasi-contractual remedy. It rests on equitable principles that a person should not be allowed to enrich himself unjustly at the expense of another. Here, the Court felt the buyer had alleged sufficient facts on which the claim was premised that the seller, if allowed to retain payment for a product that put toxic materials in drinking water, would be unjustly enriched. It held the doctrine was an independent remedy that could supplant any contractual remedy, entitling the buyer to plead the doctrine as an alternative to a claim for recovery on the contract.


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