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Cablevision of Breckenridge, Inc. v. Tannhauser Condo. Asso. - 649 P.2d 1093 (Colo. 1982)

Rule:

To recover under a theory of quasi-contract or unjust enrichment, a plaintiff must show (1) that a benefit was conferred on the defendant by the plaintiff, (2) that the benefit was appreciated by the defendant, and (3) that the benefit was accepted by the defendant under such circumstances that it would be inequitable for it to be retained without payment of its value. Application of the doctrine does not depend upon the existence of a contract, express or implied in fact, but on the need to avoid unjust enrichment of the defendant notwithstanding the absence of an actual agreement to pay for the benefit conferred.

Facts:

In 1972, Defendant Tannhauser Condominium Association ("Association") subscribed to cable television services provided by plaintiff Cablevision of Breckenridge, Inc. ("Cablevision"). Cablevision installed the necessary equipment and wiring for the service to a 33-unit condominium building ("Building 1"). In 1974, at the request of one Jerry White, who purported to represent the Association, cable service was discontinued to all but three units. Cablevision removed a vital piece of equipment from the premises, but White replaced that equipment with one of his own. Unknown to Cablevision, all 33 units again had access to Cablevision's services, but it was billing the Association only for three. Later in 1974, the Association constructed another building ("Building 2"), which was wired for cable television service. White connected the cable service from Building 1 to Building 2, providing Cablevision's service to all 25 units in Building 2. Cablevision filed a lawsuit in Colorado state court against the Association and individual unit owners ("Owners") alleging, inter alia, claims of breach of contract and unjust enrichment. By stipulation, the case was tried on the single issue as to whether any defendant breached any contract with Cablevision. The trial court entered judgment for Cablevision, holding defendants liable for conversion of Cablevision's service. On appeal, the court of appeals reversed, finding that there was no evidence of breach of contract—the sole issue at trial. Cablevision was granted a writ of certiorari.

Issue:

Could Cablevision recover for damages under the doctrine of unjust enrichment for the wrongful conversion of its subscription cable service?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court Colorado reversed the appellate court's judgment and remanded the case for reinstatement of the district court's judgment. The court held that the doctrine of unjust enrichment applied, in that a benefit was conferred upon the Association and the Owners by Cablevision, and the benefit was appreciated. The court also concluded that the Owners retained a service under such circumstances that it would be inequitable to allow its use without payment for its value. The court held that the Owners were not innocent or unwilling recipients of a benefit, but actively facilitated its provision and that Cablevision had a legally protected interest in equipment it had installed and in the service that the equipment enabled.

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