The nonbreaching party is always entitled to restitution in the event of total breach by nonperformance or repudiation, unless both parties have performed all duties except for payment by the other party of a definite sum of money for the injured party’s performance. 1 Calhoun, a contractor, agrees to build $3,000 worth of fences for only $2,000 and completes the construction. Arlene, the landowner, refuses to pay. Calhoun’s only right is to get the $2,000; he does not have a restitution right to $2,500, the market price of his services (or $3,000, the amount by which her property increased in value); he is entitled, instead, only to $2,000, his contract price. Had Arlene repudiated prior to completion, however, Calhoun would then have been entitled to restitution based either on the market price of the work or on the amount by which he enhanced her property. If the one party breaches, the nonbreaching party is generally entitled to restitution of property that can be returned. Arlene gives Calhoun a valuable Ming vase in return for his promise to construct the fences. Upon Calhoun’s breach, Arlene is entitled to specific restitution of the vase.
Measuring restitution interest can be problematic. The courts have considerable discretion to award either what it would have cost to hire someone else to do the work that the nonbreaching party performed (generally, the market price of the service) or the value that was added to the property of the party in breach by virtue of the claimant’s performance. Calhoun, the contractor, agrees to construct ten fences around Arlene’s acreage at the market price of $25,000. After erecting three, Calhoun has performed services that would cost $7,500, market value. Assume that he has increased the value of Arlene’s grounds by $8,000. If Arlene repudiated, there are two measures of Calhoun’s restitution interest: $8,000, the value by which the property was enhanced, or $7,500, the amount it would have cost Arlene to hire someone else to do the work. Which measure to use depends on who repudiated the contract and for what reason. In some cases, the enhancement of property or wealth measurement could lead to an award vastly exceeding the market price for the service. In such cases, the smaller measure is used. For a doctor performing lifesaving operations on a patient, restitution would recover only the market value of the doctor’s services—not the monetary value of the patient’s life.