may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1994).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Steven M. Kotzenmacher,
Pamela J. Kotzenmacher,
Filed December 3, 1996
Kandiyohi County District Court
File No. C9-96-11
John E. Mack, Schneider Law Firm, 706 South First Street, P. O. Box 776, Willmar, MN 56201 (for Appellant)
James Blaney, Moore, Costello & Hart, P.L.L.P., 1400 Norwest Center, 55 East Fifth Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for Respondent)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Huspeni, Judge, and Norton, Judge.
Appeal from summary judgment motion dismissing putative father's suit against actual father seeking reimbursement for parenting and child care services. Because appellant has no legal cause of action, and because respondent was not unjustly enriched, we affirm.
From the time of E.E.'s birth until April 1991, approximately seven and one-half months, E.E. lived with appellant, Pamela Kotzenmacher, and their two children. Until March 1991, appellant believed he was E.E.'s biological father, and provided for her care and support.
In April 1991, shortly after a paternity test established that appellant was not E.E.'s biological father, he and Pamela Kotzenmacher separated. Appellant voluntarily continued supporting E.E. for approximately five more months.
After the separation, Pamela Kotzenmacher brought an action for child support against respondent Michael McNeil. On January 2, 1992, a trial court awarded Pamela Kotzenmacher child support retroactive to E.E.'s birth, and a cash settlement for various expenses, including medical bills. In February 1992, appellant commenced dissolution proceedings against Pamela Kotzenmacher. At trial, appellant requested one-half of the initial child support received by Pamela Kotzenmacher from McNeil, asserting that because he supported E.E. for the first twelve months of her life, the support covering that period constituted marital income. The trial court ordered that appellant be reimbursed the equitable amount of $662.50.
Appellant brought this action in district court seeking reimbursement of expenses from Pamela Kotzenmacher and McNeil on the grounds of unjust enrichment. Appellant moved for partial summary judgment and Pamela Kotzenmacher and respondent cross-moved for summary judgment and reimbursement of fees. The trial court granted their motion for summary judgment and denied the motion for reimbursement and appellant's partial summary judgment motion. This appeal followed. On June 11, 1996, Pamela Kotzenmacher was dismissed from the appeal, leaving Michael McNeil as sole respondent.
Appellant argues that several Minnesota statutes establish an obligation of parents to support their children and to reimburse those who have undertaken that burden. In support, he cites Minn. Stat. § 256.87 (1994) (parent of a child is liable to public welfare agency for amount of assistance furnished for which parent has the ability to pay); Minn. R. 9560.0640 (1995) (parents shall pay for foster care costs consistent with their ability to pay); Minn. Stat. § 609.375 (1994) (enacting criminal penalties for failure to pay child support); and Minn. Stat. § 289A.50, subd. 5 (1994) (providing for automatic withholding procedures for child support, etc.). Appellant reasons that because the legislature has clearly determined that parents should provide for the support of their children, the legislature also intends parents to reimburse others who provide that support. The state does require reimbursement of public welfare agencies based on a parent's ability to pay for such services. Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 1 (1994). However, there is no statute providing for reimbursement of private parties who have provided child support. "[C]hild support means: * * * an award * * * for the care, support and education of any child of the marriage * * *." Minn. Stat. § 518.54, subd. 4 (1) (1994). Therefore, while there is a statutory duty to pay child support, a private party has no statutory claim to reimbursement for child support.
Appellant states that respondent has been unjustly enriched and should be compensated under the doctrine of quantum meruit, because of a quasi contract, or contract implied in law, between appellant and respondent.
A quasi contract is not a contract at all in the legal sense. It is an obligation raised or imposed by law and is independent of any real or expressed intent of the parties. Roske v. Ilykanyics, 232 Minn. 383, 389, 45 N.W.2d 769, 774 (1951), quoted in Mjolsness v. Mjolsness, 363 N.W.2d 839, 842 (Minn. App. 1985). Under the quasi contract theory an obligation is defined in equity and good conscience and is imposed by law to prevent unjust enrichment at the expense of another. Marking v. Marking, 366 N.W.2d 386, 387 (Minn. App. 1985) (quoting Dusenka v. Dusenka, 221 Minn. 234, 238, 21 N.W.2d 528, 530-31 (Minn. 1946)). Unjust enrichment claims do not lie simply because one party benefits from the efforts of others; it must be shown that a party was unjustly enriched in the sense that the term unjustly could mean illegally or unlawfully. First Nat'l Bank of St. Paul v. Ramier, 311 N.W.2d 502, 504 (Minn. 1981). Unjust enrichment is based on what the person allegedly enriched has received, not on what the opposing party has lost. Georgopolis v. George, 237 Minn. 176, 185, 54 N.W.2d 137, 142 (Minn. 1952). The elements of a quasi contract are:
a benefit conferred upon the defendant by the plaintiff, appreciation by the defendant of such benefit, and acceptance and retention by the defendant of such benefit under such circumstances that it would be inequitable for him to retain it without paying the value thereof.
Acton Constr. Co. v. State, 383 N.W.2d 416, 417 (Minn. App. 1986), review denied (Minn. May 22, 1986).
At oral argument, appellant conceded that Minn. Stat. § 553.02 (1994), abolishing all causes of action for alienation of affections, precludes his claim for loss of emotional benefits. Appellant argues that respondent has been enriched because he did not have to bathe, clothe, feed, change, visit, or otherwise parent the child.
If respondent was enriched by not having paid child support, his benefit was taken away by his subsequent payment of child support. Unjust enrichment, on a quasi contract theory, requires the acceptance and retention of the benefit where it would be inequitable to keep the benefit without paying its value. Id. Here, respondent has neither retained the benefit, nor kept its value. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by concluding that respondent was not unjustly enriched.
Respondent also argues that the doctrine of collateral estoppel prevents any recovery by appellant. While we need not rely on collateral estoppel to deny appellant relief, we note that in his dissolution action appellant sought and received reimbursement for the support he provided to E.E. in the early months of her life. Because respondent was paying child support at the time of appellant's dissolution action, the reimbursement appellant received was, in effect, received from respondent. It seems that matters between appellant and respondent should have been appropriately concluded at that time.