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Gould v. American Water Works Service Co.

Decided: June 28, 1968.

JASPER C. GOULD AND OPAL W. GOULD, HIS WIFE, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
AMERICAN WATER WORKS SERVICE CO., INC., A CORPORATION, AND THE BERNARDS WATER COMPANY, A NEW JERSEY CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



For affirmance -- Chief Justice Weintraub and Justices Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Hall, Schettino and Haneman. For reversal -- None.

Per Curiam

[52 NJ Page 227] The issue here is whether plaintiff, Jasper C. Gould, has a cause of action for damages against defendant The Bernards Water Company in quasi or implied contract based upon alleged unjust enrichment resulting from defendant's appropriation and use of information developed through plaintiff's efforts and skill in locating underground water wells. The trial court decided that the evidence created a jury question on the subject and the jury found for plaintiff Jasper Gould. The complaint against defendant American

Water Works Service Co., Inc. was dismissed and has not been appealed. The Appellate Division, in an unreported opinion, reversed, holding that plaintiff was a mere volunteer and that no legal basis existed for imposing a quasi -contractual liability on defendant. We granted certification. 51 N.J. 182 (1968).

Plaintiff Jasper C. Gould is an experienced well digger. Defendant is a public utility engaged in the business of selling water to the public in Bernards Township and other localities. In 1953 plaintiff learned from a friend of many years standing, one Burd, who was in defendant's employ as a superintendent, that the company was interested in developing an additional water supply. Upon Gould's inquiry, Burd indicated the company's interest was in wells which would yield 200 to 225 gallons of water a minute. Gould asked also what the company would be willing to pay for such a well. Burd replied he was not the "boss" but he knew it would pay a fair price. Nothing further was said. The friendship between Gould and Burd was purely social. They had had no business relationships. Some time later Burd asked Gould if he would be gracious enough to talk with defendant's geologist. Gould agreed and spent two days with the geologist showing him wells Gould had dug on his own property and discussing conditions he encountered in doing so.

Thereafter, in the latter part of 1953 or early 1954, Gould spent some time drilling a well on five acres of land he owned in Bernards Township. At a depth of 365 feet the well delivered only 60 gallons a minute, so he abandoned it. He moved his equipment 80 feet farther in on his property and began to drill again. This time, after going down 670 feet, he located water and the well yielded over 200 gallons per minute. A short time later, at a social gathering, Gould told Burd he had a very good well and inquired as to whether the company would be interested in seeing a pump test on it. Burd said he would find out from his superiors, and a few days later he advised Gould his superiors would like to have such a test. In April 1954 the test was made. It revealed

the well was yielding over 300 gallons a minute. In another conversation with Gould, Burd said the well was not large enough to admit defendant's pumping equipment and asked what it would cost to enlarge it from six to ten inches. It is undisputed that Gould never furnished a figure. Instead he proceeded to ream the well to a 10-inch diameter for a depth of 250 feet. He admitted that nobody connected with the water company asked him to do so.

Later in 1954, how much later does not appear, Gould met with Burd's superiors who offered $12,000 for the well. There was no discussion about whether the offer was for title to the land or an easement. The conference was a short one because Gould asked for $100,000. About a year later defendant offered $12,000 to $13,000. It was again rejected. Some time later in 1955 or in 1956 Gould reduced his asking price to $50,000, but defendant was not interested. Finally about five years later, in 1960 or 1961, defendant offered $16,000 and Gould lowered his figure to $35,000. The negotiations ended on that note and no agreement was ever reached.

Gould conceded that no representative of defendant asked or authorized him to dig a well or to prospect for water in its behalf, or ever agreed that if he dug a well which produced water at the rate of 200 gallons a minute the company would buy it from him. It appeared also that in a pretrial deposition he said:

"Q. What was the purpose in drilling this well (meaning the second well)?

A. It was speculative on my part. For the water company.

Q. You mean for the water ...


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