Bonina v. Sheppard

Massachusetts Appeals Court

78 N.E.3d 128 (Mass. App. Ct. 2017)

An individual who contributes to improving the property of another under an unmarried, cohabitating relationship may recover in restitution for unjust enrichment.

Relevant Facts

Bonina (the plaintiff) and Sheppard (the defendant) lived together in a house purchased under the defendant’s name. They were unmarried. The house needed significant repairs. The plaintiff contributed approximately $157,000 in repair expenses as well as his own labor to improve the house as well as make additions to it. Additionally, the plaintiff contributed to paying half of the mortgage payments for over 16 years. Eventually, the parties split up and the plaintiff sued to recover restitution damages, arguing that his contributions unjustly enriched the defendant.

At trial, the plaintiff presented evidence to corroborate his expenses, but did not try to recover the value of his labor. Neither party provided evidence of how much the improvements increased the value of the house. The court held that the plaintiff did not intend his contributions to be gifts. Additionally, the court held that the plaintiff’s contribution of mortgage payments covered the plaintiff’s benefit of living in the home, and that the plaintiff received a benefit from the maintenance and repairs performed on the home. Subsequently, the court awarded the plaintiff restitution damages in the amount of $157,000, representing the amounts spent on permanent improvements. The defendant appealed, arguing that the plaintiff was not entitled to restitution and in the alternative, that the court should’ve measured the amount of restitution damages based on the increased value of the home.

Issue

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Holding & Reasoning

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Concurrence

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Dissent

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Last updated:

January 6, 2021

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Procedural History

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Citations

78 N.E.3d 128 (Mass. App. Ct. 2017)