Martin v. Little, Brown & Co.
304 Pa.Super. 424, 450 A.2d 984 (Pa.Super. 1981)
- Martin sent a letter to Little telling them that one of their books had been plagiarized. When Little sued the third party infringer, Martin demanded compensation for his help. Little sent him $200, but he sued for one-third of Little’s recovery in the infringement suit and for intentional infliction of mental distress based on Little’s threat to countersue him.
- Martin never requested payment for his services in his original letter. He simply offered to volunteer information to Little.
- Martin made the claim pro se, that means he didn’t have a lawyer.
- Little demurred all the facts. That means that even if all the facts are true, the law still says they should win.
- The Trial Court ruled that there had been no contract made and that Martin could not recover for quantum meruit because he had acted as a “volunteer”.
- The Trial Court dismissed the intentional infliction of mental distress claim. Getting stressed out because someone threatens to countersue you is not a legitimate, recoverable claim. If it was, then all litigation would involve a mental distress tort.
- The Appellate Court affirmed the decision.
- In order to construe an implied contract from a course of conduct between two parties, an intention to pay on the part of the alleged promisee must be reasonably inferable. In the absence of a contract, restitution is only available when someone has been “unjustly enriched at the expense of another.” Volunteers generally have no right to restitution.
- The Court found nothing in the course of conduct between the parties that suggested that Martin demanded money or that Little expressed a willingness or expectation to pay for Martin’s service.
- The Court found that the Martin was a volunteer. Therefore, Little may have been enriched, but not unjustly. Martin’s benefit was given more in the nature of a gift.
- The Court found that, “where circumstances are evident that one’s work effort has been voluntarily given to another, an intention to pay therefore cannot be inferred.” Basically, as a general rule, volunteers have no right to restitution or compensation for their services.