Monday, November 8, 2021
Teaching Restitution through The Incredibles
When I first started teaching Contracts law in 2005, I could assume that my students would be familiar with the the film, The Incredibles. Their knowledge of the film made teaching restitution/unjust enrichment really easy. I can no longer make that assumption. In fact, mentions of the film now lead to confused conversations about which Incredibles movie I mean, how many there were, and which is the best (the original, obviously). And so, I now have to schedule a screening outside of class time, to familiarize my students with the material. As I explain to the students, it may be possible to cover this material without talking about The Incredibles, but I certainly don't know how to do it.
Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, and Frozone routinely confer benefits on the public. Are they entitled to restitution? No, because they do not confer those benefits in expectation of payment. Note how this scene does not end with any payment either for the dislodgment of the cat from the tree or for the assistance provided to the police.
Okay, but one would expect that Edna Mode gets paid for the supersuits she designs for her customers. After all, her house is spectacular. She must be making money somehow. Can she, demand payment from Elastigirl when she makes supersuits for the entire Incredibles family?
No, Edna is quite obviously an officious intermeddler. Elastigirl doesn't want the suits. She has no need for the suits. Jack-Jack doesn't even have any powers. It doesn't matter how much work Edna put into the suits; she has not conferred a benefit on the family when the family doesn't want the suits.
However, things change once Elastigirl and the children set off in search of Mr. Incredible. They end up using the suits, thus ratifying the transaction and cleansing it of its original, officious character. The Incredibles now should pay Edna for the suits, assuming that is what one does.
There remains only the problematic opening sequence. The scene is problematic both for its negative depiction of the legal profession and for the, I believe, faulty assumption that the law would award damages to a person whose suicide attempt was thwarted but who was injured in the process. The law assumes that life is better than death, and so likely would regard the frustrated suicide attempt as a good, both to the plaintiff and to society as a whole.
Fortunately, proper legal order is restored at the end of the film when the Incredibles and Frozone thwart Syndrome and save the city. Supers are now free to return to their traditional practice of providing gratuitous material benefits to an adoring public.
The situation here is as follows:
Edna: I made these for you, and only for you.
Elastigirl: I don't need them.
Edna: Are you sure about that? [plot developments ensue]
Elastigirl: No. I'm wrong. I really do need them. [more plot developments involving use of the suits]
If Edna makes these suits in expectation of payment (again, the movie is vague on this point), I think Elastigirl would be unjustly enriched if she did not pay. Do you disagree?
Posted by: Jeremy Telman | Nov 8, 2021 9:26:58 AM
If Edna truly is an officious intermeddler (I haven't seen the movie), the law of unjustified enrichment does not require the recipient to pay if he or she subsequently makes use of the conferred benefit. R3RUE sect. 3, Cmt. b ("A valid gift is not a source of unjust enrichment (unlike a gift induced by mistake, fraud, or undue influence ...). Outside the context of gratuitous transfers, the fact that a benefit is retained, enjoyed, and profitably exploited by the recipient, all without compensation, does not necessarily mean that the recipient has been unjustly enriched.")
Posted by: Bruce Frier | Nov 8, 2021 7:45:04 AM