Heard: March 2, 2017.
action commenced in the Superior Court Department on July 22,
2011. The case was heard by Gregg J. Pasquale, J.
A. Bachrach for the defendant. Scott G. Gowen for the
Present: Kafker, C.J., Massing, & Desmond, JJ.
issue presented in this case is whether a substantial,
uncompensated contribution by one unmarried cohabitant to
improve the home owned by the other is recoverable in
restitution. The plaintiff, Stephen Bonina, and the
defendant, Jane A. Sheppard, were involved in a long-term
nonmarital relationship. The plaintiff, a contractor,
expended significant funds and labor to improve the home in
which the couple lived for sixteen years, which was owned by
the defendant. When the relationship ended, the plaintiff
brought this action against the defendant claiming, inter
alia, that she had been unjustly enriched by his
contributions to the home. After a bench trial, a Superior
Court judge awarded the plaintiff $156, 913.07 in
restitution, which represented the funds he expended to
improve the home over sixteen years. The defendant appeals,
claiming that the trial judge erred by (1) finding that she
was unjustly enriched; and (2) calculating the
plaintiff's restitution based on his costs to improve the
home, rather than the increased value of the home with the
improvements. We affirm.
summarize the facts found by the trial judge, supplemented by
uncontroverted facts in the record. Weber v. Community
Teamwork, Inc., 434 Mass. 761, 769 (2001). The plaintiff
and the defendant met on New Year's Eve, 1989, and began
dating shortly thereafter. Three years later, the parties
became interested in purchasing a home in Bolton that had
been vacant for two years. The home was owned by Concord
Co-Operative Bank (bank). During negotiations with the bank,
the parties coauthored a letter declaring their serious
interest in the home, and explaining that the cost to bring
the home to livable condition was $43, 500, based on
estimations by the plaintiff and another contractor. In May,
1993, the defendant purchased the home for $131, 500 in her
name only, becoming the sole obligor on the mortgage.
turned out, the entire home had to be gutted, and the
necessary repairs cost much more than anticipated. The
parties moved into the home in September, 1993. The plaintiff
thereafter paid half of the mortgage payments, taxes, and
living expenses during the cohabitation. He used various
places in the home as his office for his contracting
1994, the parties constructed an addition to the living room.
Between 1993 and 1998, the plaintiff spent $74, 068.94 on
improvements and maintenance of the home, which included the
addition, as well as a new furnace, windows, a gas stove, and
a new basement floor. The plaintiff spent "countless
hours" performing the "overwhelming majority"
of the work. The defendant spent $35, 544.17 on improvements
and maintenance during this period.
parties were engaged on Christmas Eve, 1999. Around this
time, the parties extended the kitchen to make a better
passageway to a room that the plaintiff planned to use as his
office. While this work was being performed, the parties
decided to build a second floor above the office. From 1999
to 2004, the plaintiff spent approximately $98, 352.02 on
improvements to the home, most of which went toward materials
to construct the addition and the second floor, such as
roofing, siding, flooring, and electrical and plumbing work.
The defendant spent $46, 532.99.
2005, the plaintiff contributed approximately $17, 967.32 for
a new septic system. From 2006 to 2008, the plaintiff
contributed an additional $3, 572.24 for repairs and
maintenance. The defendant's contributions during this
time were minimal.
thereafter, the relationship deteriorated, and the plaintiff
moved out in February, 2009. By this time, the plaintiff had
contributed $93, 744.94 towards the monthly mortgage
payments, which represented approximately one-half of the
payments due during the sixteen years that he lived in the
home. The plaintiff then brought this action seeking
restitution for his contributions to the home under an unjust
enrichment theory. The trial judge found that the
"majority" of the plaintiff's costs reflected
materials to construct the three additions, including lumber,
cement, insulation, piping, and flooring, as well as other
items that became permanent fixtures of the home, including
windows, doors, appliances, the septic system, and the
furnace. The judge deducted the plaintiff's costs for
maintenance of the home, such as fence painting and lawn
mowing, as well as those related to "short-term
benefits, " such as extension cords, light bulbs, and
log splitting; the judge found that the plaintiff had
received the benefit of those items. After deducting those
latter amounts, the judge awarded the plaintiff $156, 913.07
in restitution, which represented his costs to purchase the
materials and the fixtures to improve the home.
1. Unmarried cohabitants ...