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Contract – Sovereign Immunity – Unjust Enrichment – Volunteer Fire Department

M Series Rebuild, LLC v. Town of Mount Pleasant (Lawyers Weekly No. 12-07-0805, 21 pp.) (Donna Stroud, J.) Appealed from Cabarrus County District Court. (William G. Hamby Jr., J.) N.C. App. Full-text opinion.

Holding:  A volunteer fire department was not unjustly enriched and is not required to pay for repairs to one of its trucks when the repairs were conducted without a valid contract.

Plaintiff contacted the fire chief and offered to install, free of charge, a prototype hydraulic steering system in the volunteer department’s fire truck. The chief accepted. But before the work was done, the plaintiff received a call from a member of the department requesting that plaintiff do some other repairs to the truck at the same time. Plaintiff agreed. While installing the hydraulic system and doing the other requested repairs, plaintiff found a variety of other problems with the truck. The fire chief approved repair to the truck’s radiator; another representative of the department approved the other repairs. Afterward, the truck was delivered back to the department, followed by an invoice for repairs totaling more than $7,000, but not including the free hydraulic system, installed without charge.

Despite repeated attempts to collect the debt, the department refused to pay. This suit ensued, charging the town with unjust enrichment and seeking payment in full.

The town and the volunteer department argue that they did not agree to all the repairs; what’s more, the agreement to do the work was not subject to a pre-audit certificate. Therefore, the contract on which the repairs were based was invalid. The trial court granted summary judgment to the town, determining that the contract was invalid and unenforceable, and that the town had sovereign immunity as well.

This court agrees with the trial court’s assessment; we also reject plaintiffs’ argument that the town needed to have claimed sovereign immunity as an affirmative defense in order for it to be available. Affirmed.

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