What's Wrong with Restitution
AbstractThe law of restitution has developed out of the law of quasi-contract and the law of constructive trust. Inadequate attention to the logic and coherence of doctrines in the law of restitution, however, renders this new law as opaque and confused as its predecessor. This is largely due to the remedial mentality of the common law. The remedy to the remedial mentality is to concentrate future efforts in stating doctrine on defining rights, not remedies. The precedent for this type of change in method is the transformation that occurred in contract and tort over the past 100 years, inspired, in part, by civilian theories of private law. The right that generates the remedy restitution is the cause of action in unjust enrichment. It arises where there has been a non-consensual receipt and retention of value, that is, a receipt and retention of value that occurs without "juristic reason." "Nonconsensual" means by mistake, by theft or by finding. There are a number of problems in the method of the common law tradition which stand in the way of recognizing this simple formulation: (a) The inherent expansiveness of "restitution " and "unjust enrichment" if these terms are not rigorously defined; (b) The lack of serious competition for the expansive versions of the subject, on a number of fronts; (c) The lack of a clear direction in the efforts to reform the law of quasi-contract and constructive trust; (d) The deeply embedded nature of the quasi-contract thinking; (e) Poor analysis in some areas of the law of contract and (f) Tort; and (g) The lack of an explicit agency of reform in the tradition.
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