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CONTRACTS 1: Services rendered during a meretricious relationship are presumably gratuitous.

Plaintiff and defendant were involved in a romantic relationship, but never married. According to plaintiff, the parties cohabited for 18 months with defendant’s minor children. At some point in the relationship, plaintiff began paying for defendant’s living expenses, including some of the children’s expenses. After the relationship ended, plaintiff sued defendant, seeking repayment for $68,784.50 in payments he claims he made for her living expenses.

Plaintiff claimed that he had loaned defendant the $68,784.50 and that defendant orally or impliedly agreed to repay plaintiff, but failed to do so. Alternatively, plaintiff argued that he was entitled to payment under theories of unjust enrichment, promissory estoppel, and fraud.

Defendant admitted that plaintiff had paid the couple’s living expenses, but denied that plaintiff ever gave her a loan or that they had an agreement for defendant to repay plaintiff for living expenses. Defendant moved for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(8) and (C)(10). In support of her motion, defendant presented the court with numerous text messages between her and defendant tending to support her theory that plaintiff had paid the expenses gratuitously. Plaintiff did not challenge the authenticity of the text messages and offered no other documentary evidence to support his causes of action.

Services rendered during a meretricious relationship are presumably gratuitous. To overcome this presumption, plaintiff must show that he/she expected compensation from defendant at the time he/she rendered the services and that defendant expected to pay for them.  The phrase meretricious relationship is defined to mean a stable, marriage like relationship in which the parties cohabit knowing that a lawful marriage between them does not exist.

The trial court granted summary disposition in defendant’s favor on all counts.

Regarding the breach of contract claim, the trial court concluded that the parties enjoyed a meretricious relationship and plaintiff had failed to present any evidence from which plaintiff could rebut the presumption of gratuitous intent. The trial court further concluded, that no factual development could establish that defendant’s retention of the benefit would be inequitable and dismissed the unjust enrichment claim. Regarding the promissory estoppel claim, the trial court concluded that no factual development could establish any promise made by defendant or plaintiff’s reliance on any promise. Finally, concerning the fraud claim, the trial court found that no factual development could establish that defendant made knowingly or recklessly a false material representation inducing plaintiff’s reliance and injury.

On defendant’s motion, at a later hearing, the trial court ordered plaintiff to pay defendant the sum of $17,531.25 in attorney fees and $126.07 in costs as a sanction for filing a frivolous lawsuit.

Plaintiff’s failure to present any evidence or legal argument reasonably supporting his claims renders the trial court’s award of attorney fees wholly appropriate.  The court held that the trial court did not err by granting summary disposition for defendant and awarding her attorney fees and costs.

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