Equitable Lien: Unjust Enrichment

Jackson-Jester v. Aziz, ___ So. 3d ___, 35 Fla. L. Weekly D2344 (Fla. 2d DCA 10/22/10)

The defendant purchased and improved real property it purchased from a seller whose claim to ownership was based upon several forged deeds.  When the true owner discovered that the defendant was claiming title to the property, she filed an action to quiet title and prevailed, but the trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on its counterclaim for equitable lien and set the property for public sale.  The appellate court reversed.   Although the defendant conferred a benefit on the property, the defendant did not show that the property owner either requested, or knowingly and voluntarily accepted, the benefit.  “Whether [the plaintiff] knew of the work and purposely delayed in notifying [the defendant] of the title issues on the property, as [the defendant] argues, is a question of fact not subject to determination on a summary judgment motion.”  When the trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, the defendant was prosecuting a claim for professional negligence against the title agent.  If the defendant were to recover damages against both the title agent and property, the plaintiff could be unjustly enriched.  As a result, “[t]he trial court’s determination that it would be unjust for [the plaintiff] to retain the benefit conferred on the property and that equity required granting the equitable lien in favor of [the defendant] was premature.”