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Landry v. Landry
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Decision:	1997 ME 173
Docket:	Som-96-622
 on Briefs:	April 8, 1997
Decided:	July 25, 1997




	[¶1]   William H. Landry, Sr. appeals from the judgment entered in the
Superior Court (Somerset County, Alexander, J.) after a jury-waived trial. 
The court ordered William to pay Raymond Landry, Sr. back rent and, on
William's counterclaim, ordered Raymond to reimburse him for mortgage
payments but denied William recovery for other expenses he had incurred in
maintaining and making improvements to Raymond's mobile home.  William
contends that the court failed to apply the correct legal standard in deciding
his counterclaim for the value of improvements made to the residence
pursuant to a theory of unjust enrichment, and that it therefore erred by
allowing Raymond to retain the benefits of improvements he made without
reimbursing him for their value.    We agree that the court did not apply the
correct standard for determining unjust enrichment.  Contrary to William's
contentions, however, the court did not miscalculate the back rent he owes
Raymond.  We therefore vacate the judgment on William's counterclaim and
affirm the judgment on Raymond's claim.       
	[¶2]  In 1992 Raymond purchased a mobile home with a two-car
garage in Skowhegan.  In December 1993 William, Raymond's son by his
first marriage, underwent back surgery following a work-related injury. 
Unable to climb the stairs where he had been living, William moved in with
Raymond and his second wife Rose.  Raymond and Rose were then executing
wills, in which they planned to leave the home to each other and, upon their
deaths, to William, assuming he paid off the debt secured by mortgages
encumbering the property.  
	[¶3]  In 1994 Rose died and William received a workers'
compensation settlement with which he satisfied the mortgages in the
amount of $11,921.83.  In August Raymond moved out, in part to help his
sister-in-law recuperate from a heart attack.  William remained in the home
and started a motor-vehicle repair shop in the garage.  He made payments
on a chipper and riding tractor owned by Raymond; bought and installed
items for the home, including new curtains, windows, doors, carpets, and
sub-flooring; and allegedly incurred non-routine house-cleaning costs.  In
April 1995 William asked Raymond to transfer the property to him based on
his understanding of their prior agreement.{1}  Raymond offered to do so, but
only for an additional $10,000.  William refused, their discussions became
increasingly contentious, and William changed the locks on the mobile home
and refused Raymond entry.   Raymond responded by altering the terms of
his will so as to deny William inheritance of the property, and listed it for
	[¶4]  In September 1995 Raymond filed a complaint seeking a
declaration that he was the owner of both the real and personal property, an
order that William vacate the premises, an award for the real property's fair
rental value, and damages.  William counterclaimed requesting specific
performance of Raymond's agreement to transfer the property by will, and
reimbursement for his nearly $12,000 mortgage payment as well as for the
value of his maintenance of and improvements to the property incurred
prior to Raymond's alleged breach of the agreement to transfer the property
to William by will.  By the time a jury-waived trial was held in July 1996,
several of the claims and counterclaims had been withdrawn.  The court
ordered William to pay Raymond back rent of $8,000, ordered Raymond to
reimburse William for the $11,921.83 mortgage payment and to turn over to 
William possession of the chipper and the tractor, but declined to order
Raymond to reimburse William for other expenses he had incurred in
maintaining and improving the property.  This appeal followed.  
II. Unjust Enrichment
	[¶5]  We review questions of law de novo.  Collins v. Trius, Inc., 663
A.2d 570, 572 (Me. 1995).  To decide an unjust enrichment claim, a court
must ascertain whether a benefit has been conferred, whether the party
receiving the benefit has an appreciation or knowledge of it, and whether
"the acceptance or retention by the defendant of the benefit [is] under such
circumstances as to make it inequitable for the defendant to retain the
benefit without payment of its value."  Aladdin Elec. Assoc. v. Town of Old
Orchard Beach, 645 A.2d 1142, 1144 (Me. 1994).  According to the court's
order, in deciding William's unjust enrichment claim it considered only
whether he had proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the
improvements were "required as absolutely necessary for the property." 
The "absolutely necessary" requirement as an element of the unjust
enrichment analysis reflects the application of an incorrect legal standard. 
Furthermore, at the trial William offered a list of his cash outlays for the
various improvements to the mobile home.  If deemed sufficiently probative
by the court, such proof would permit it to make an inferential judgment
about the value of the benefits received and retained by the defendant
pursuant to the proper legal standard.  See A.F.A.B. v. Town of Old Orchard
Beach, 657 A.2d 323, 325 (Me. 1995) (cost of improvements is evidence of
enhanced value and is therefore relevant to determining the amount that the
defendant has benefitted from the improvements).  Accordingly, we vacate
the judgment on William's counterclaim.
Payment of Back Rent
	[¶6]  William contends that the court erred by determining both the
period for which he owes back rent to Raymond as well as the amount of
rent due per month.  We do not set aside a court's findings of fact unless
they are clearly erroneous-that is, we do so only when there is no
competent evidence in the record to support the finding or the finding is
based on a clear misapprehension of the meaning of the evidence.  H.E.
Sargent, Inc. v. Town of Wells, 676 A.2d 920, 923 (Me. 1996).  
	[¶7]  The court did not err in either aspect of its determination that
William owed $8,000 in back rent to Raymond.  The court determined this
figure, which covers rent for the period from April 1, 1995, to August 1,
1996, on the basis that as of April 1995 the parties' relationship became
adversarial and William was no longer living in Raymond's home with the
latter's permission, and because possession was granted to Raymond in
August 1996.  Raymond was entitled to receive rent for his property for the
period that William enjoyed exclusive possession of it-that is, for the 16
months following April 1995,{2} when William changed the locks on the
mobile home and forbade Raymond entry, and Raymond asked him to leave. 
During that time William operated a business on the premises, and thereby
deprived Raymond of its combined residential and commercial rental value. 
When Raymond attempted to list the property for sale, William refused to
allow the agent to post signs on the property. 
	[¶8]  As for the court's determination of the amount of rent due per
month, Raymond's testimony as to the purchase price ($42,000 in 1992)
and fair market rental value ($500) of the property, as used for both
residential and commercial purposes, was sufficient for the court to set the
rental value at $500.  Ferrell v. Cox, 617 A.2d 1003, 1007 (Me. 1992) (by
reason of ownership alone, property owners may testify as to their opinion of
their property's fair market value); M.R. Evid. 701.  Moreover, despite
Raymond's assertion of the $500 rental value in his complaint, William did
not present evidence at the trial to refute that figure.  See 617 A.2d at 1007.
 	The entry is: 		
				Judgment on claim of Raymond Landry, Sr.
affirmed.  Judgment on counterclaim of
William Landry, Sr. vacated.  Remanded for
further proceedings consistent with the
opinion herein.

Attorney for plaintiff: Susan K. Lutton, Esq. Legal Services for the Elderly, Inc. P O Box 2723 Augusta, ME 04338-2723 Attorney for defendant: John P. Frankenfield, Esq. Anthony P. Shusta, II, Esq. P O Box 170 Madison, ME 04950
FOOTNOTES******************************** {1} By William's account, which was rejected by the court, the property was to have been transferred to him by deed as soon as he satisfied approximately $12,000 in mortgage debt on the property, and not only upon Raymond's death. {2} Contrary to William's contentions, the record contains nothing to suggest that the parties' relationship changed on April 14 rather than April 1. The relevant testimony speaks in terms of "April 1995"-contrary to William's suggestion, none of the testimony identifies the specific date of their angry conversation that April-and the "evidence" William points to consists of assertions in Raymond's complaint that the property was listed with a realtor "on or about April 14, 1995." The realtor was not called to testify as to the exact date the property was listed.