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Current Developments in the Commercial Divisions of the
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Posted: April 1, 2014

Financial Advisor’s Claims Dismissed on Statute of Fraud Grounds

On March 25, 2014, the First Department issued a decision in JF Capital Advisors, LLC v. Lightstone Group, LLC, 2014 NY Slip Op. 01984, affirming the dismissal of quantum meruit and unjust enrichment claims under the statute of frauds.

In JF Capital Advisors, the plaintiff (“an investment advisory firm composed of hotel and hospitality industry experts”) alleged that it had an oral agreement with the defendants (a group of “real estate investment companies”) to provide “financial advisory services . . . in connection with defendants’ acquisition of certain hotels and other investment opportunities.” The plaintiff claimed that the defendants failed to compensate it for a “broad range of advisory services” “in connection with eight different projects that defendants were interested in pursuing.” The court concluded that the plaintiff’s claims for quantum meruit and unjust enrichment were barred by GOL § 5-701(a)(10), which provides that a contract to pay compensation for “negotiating the purchase, sale, exchange, renting or leasing of any real estate or . . . of a business opportunity” is void unless it is in writing:

The motion court correctly granted in part defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claims for quantum meruit and unjust enrichment with regard to three of the eight investment opportunities that defendants considered, because plaintiff acknowledged either participating in negotiations or preparing documents for bidding, i.e., assisting in negotiations of business transactions. In those cases, plaintiff plainly acted as an intermediary as the statute of frauds contemplates.

That plaintiff provided other services in addition to negotiating deals is not dispositive here. On the contrary, plaintiff undertook those other services to assist defendants’ negotiations, largely by determining the value to defendants of pursuing the deal. The statute of frauds thus squarely covers the financial advisory services plaintiff performed on those projects.

The statute of frauds also barred plaintiff’s unjust enrichment and quantum meruit claims for the financial advisory services it allegedly performed on the remaining five investment opportunities that defendants considered, for which defendants allegedly requested that plaintiff provide certain investment analyses. At the very least, plaintiff’s services in this context amount to “assisting in the negotiation or consummation of the transaction.” The motion court erroneously declined to dismiss those claims on the basis that the information plaintiff provided defendants was not ultimately used to assist in the negotiation or consummation of those investment opportunities. Indeed, investment analyses and financial advice regarding the possible acquisition of investment opportunities “clearly fall within” GOL § 5-701(a)(10).

This decision illustrates that financial advisory contracts are not enforceable unless in writing, and that the statute of frauds cannot be circumvented by recasting a claim for breach of an oral agreement as a claim for quantum meruit or unjust enrichment.

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