California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)

374. Common Count: Mistaken Receipt

[Name of plaintiff] claims that [name of defendant] owes [him/her/it] money [that was paid/for goods that were received] by mistake. To establish this claim, [name of plaintiff] must prove all of the following:

1. That [name of plaintiff] [paid [name of defendant] money/sent goods to [name of defendant]] by mistake;

2. That [name of defendant] did not have a right to [that money/the goods];

3. That [name of plaintiff] has asked [name of defendant] to return the [money/goods];

4. That [name of defendant] has not returned the [money/goods] to [name of plaintiff]; and

5. The amount of money that [name of defendant] owes [name of plaintiff].

New December 2005

Sources and Authority

  • “ ‘As Witkin states in his text, “[a] common count is proper whenever the plaintiff claims a sum of money due, either as an indebtedness in a sum certain, or for the reasonable value of services, goods, etc., furnished. It makes no difference in such a case that the proof shows the original transaction to be an express contract, a contract implied in fact, or a quasi-contract.” ’ A claim for money had and received can be based upon money paid by mistake, money paid pursuant to a void contract, or a performance by one party of an express contract.” (Utility Audit Co., Inc. v. City of Los Angeles (2003) 112 Cal.App.4th 950, 958 [5 Cal.Rptr.3d 520], internal citations omitted.)
  • “It is well settled that no contract is necessary to support an action for money had and received other than the implied contract which results by operation of law where one person receives the money of another which he has no right, conscientiously, to retain. Under such circumstances the law will imply a promise to return the money. The action is in the nature of an equitable one and is based on the fact that the defendant has money which, in equity and good conscience, he ought to pay to the plaintiffs. Such an action will lie where the money is paid under a void agreement, where it is obtained by fraud or where it was paid by a mistake of fact.” (Stratton v. Hanning (1956) 139 Cal.App.2d 723, 727 [294 P.2d 66], internal citations omitted.)
  • Restatement First of Restitution, section 28, provides:

    A person who has paid money to another because of a mistake of fact and who does not obtain what he expected in return is entitled to restitution from the other if the mistake was induced:

    (a) by the fraud of the payee, or

    (b) by his innocent and material misrepresentation, or

    (c) by the fraud or material misrepresentation of a person purporting to act as the payee’s agent, or

    (d) by the fraud or material misrepresentation of a third person, provided that the payee has notice of the fraud or representation before he has given or promised something of value.

  • “Money paid upon a mistake of fact may be recovered under the common count of money had and received. The plaintiff, however negligent he may have been, may recover if his conduct has not altered the position of the defendant to his detriment.” (Thresher v. Lopez (1921) 52 Cal.App. 219, 220 [198 P. 419], internal citations omitted.)
  • “ ‘The common count is a general pleading which seeks recovery of money without specifying the nature of the claim . . . . Because of the uninformative character of the complaint, it has been held that the typical answer, a general denial, is sufficient to raise almost any kind of defense, including some which ordinarily require special pleading.’ However, even where the plaintiff has pleaded in the form of a common count, the defendant must raise in the answer any new matter, that is, anything he or she relies on that is not put in issue by the plaintiff.” (Title Ins. Co. v. State Bd. of Equalization (1992) 4 Cal.4th 715, 731 [14 Cal.Rptr.2d 822, 842 P.2d 121], internal citations and footnote omitted.)
  • “Although such an action is one at law, it is governed by principles of equity. It may be brought ‘wherever one person has received money which belongs to another, and which “in equity and good conscience,” or in other words, in justice and right, should be returned. . . . The plaintiff’s right to recover is governed by principles of equity, although the action is one at law.’ ” (Mains v. City Title Ins. Co. (1949) 34 Cal.2d 580, 586 [212 P.2d 873], internal citations omitted.)
  • “In the common law action of general assumpsit, it is customary to plead an indebtedness using ‘common counts.’ In California, it has long been settled the allegation of claims using common counts is good against special or general demurrers. The only essential allegations of a common count are ‘(1) the statement of indebtedness in a certain sum, (2) the consideration, i.e., goods sold, work done, etc., and (3) nonpayment.’ ” (Farmers Ins. Exchange v. Zerin (1997) 53 Cal.App.4th 445, 460 [61 Cal.Rptr.2d 707], internal citations omitted.)
  • “A common count is not a specific cause of action, . . . rather, it is a simplified form of pleading normally used to aver the existence of various forms of monetary indebtedness, including that arising from an alleged duty to make restitution under an assumpsit theory. When a common count is used as an alternative way of seeking the same recovery demanded in a specific cause of action, and is based on the same facts, the common count is demurrable if the cause of action is demurrable.” (McBride v. Boughton (2004) 123 Cal.App.4th 379, 394 [20 Cal.Rptr.3d 115], internal citations omitted.)

Secondary Sources

4 Witkin, California Procedure (4th ed. 1997) Pleading, § 515

12 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 121, Common Counts, § 121.25 (Matthew Bender)

1 Matthew Bender Practice Guide: California Contract Litigation, Ch. 9, Seeking or Opposing Quantum Meruit or Quantum Valebant Recovery in Contract Actions, 9.02, 9.15, 9.32