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Express and Implied Contracts

Express contracts consist of agreements in which the terms are stated by the parties. The terms may be stated orally or in writing. But the contract as a whole must reflect the intention of the parties. As a general rule, if an express contract between the parties is established, a contract embracing the identical subject cannot be implied in fact, as the law will not normally imply a substitute promise or contract for an express contract of the parties.

Contracts implied in fact are inferred from the facts and circumstances of the case or the conduct of the parties. However, such contracts are not formally or explicitly stated in words. The law makes no distinction between contracts created by words and those created by conduct. Thus, a contract implied in fact is just as binding as an express contracts that arises from the parties’ declared intentions, with the only difference being that for contracts implied in fact courts will infer the parties’ intentions from their business relations and course of dealings.

Whereas courts apply the same legal principles to express contracts and contracts implied in fact, a different body of principles is applied to contracts implied in law. Also known as quasi-contracts, contracts implied in law are agreements imposed by courts despite the absence of at least one element essential to the formation of a binding agreement. The law creates these types of fictitious agreements to prevent one party from being unjustly enriched at the expense of another.

For example, suppose that a husband and wife ask a third party to hold a sum of money in trust for their children. But instead of holding the money in trust, the third party absconds with it. The law will not allow the third party to keep the money simply because all the requisite elements of a formal contract have not been proven by the husband and wife. Although the law is generally wary of imposing contracts on parties who did not agree to their terms, courts will find that a contract implied in law exists when (1) the defendant has been enriched at the expense of the plaintiff; (2) the enrichment was unjust (3) the plaintiff’s own conduct has not been inequitable; and (4) it is otherwise reasonable for the court to do so in light of the relationship between the parties and the circumstances of the case.

Inside Express and Implied Contracts