Justia New Hampshire Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Defendant Stephen Girard was charged with two counts of misuse of a computer or network, two counts of indecent exposure, and two counts of witness tampering. He was acquitted of the witness tampering charges and convicted on the remaining indecent exposure and computer-related charges after a bench trial. On appeal, he argued the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his motion to sever the computer-related indictments from the indecent exposure indictments. He also requested for a review family counseling records provided to the trial court for its in camera review to determine whether the court erred in failing to disclose additional material. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the superior court judgment. View "New Hampshire v. Girard" on Justia Law

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The New Hampshire Supreme Court accepted review of the Division for Children, Youth and Families' (DCYF) petition in its original jurisdiction to determine whether the superior court erred in denying DCYF's motions to dismiss respondent's claims on statute of limitation grounds. While under the care of DCYF, separate individuals sexually assaulted respondent on two separate occasions. The first assault occurred in February 2011, when respondent was approximately 12 years old, after DCYF placed her in the care of a foster family. While living with the foster family, a neighbor’s cousin raped respondent. The second assault occurred in June 2015 when respondent was approximately 16 years olf, after DCYF placed her in a children's home. An employee of the children’s home inappropriately touched, threatened, and raped respondent. In November and December 2018, the respondent filed two complaints alleging, in relevant part, claims of negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, and vicarious liability against DCYF, all relating to the sexual assaults that occurred while she was in DCYF custody. DCYF moved to dismiss the claims, arguing that they were barred by the three-year statute of limitations provided in RSA 541-B:14, IV. The respondent objected and argued, among other things, that she could not have discovered DCYF’s potential legal fault until December 19, 2016, when an independent audit of DCYF was publicly released that detailed DCYF’s various shortcomings regarding child welfare and safety. The Supreme Court determined the discovery rule in RSA 508:4, I (2010) applied to actions brought under RSA chapter 541-B (2007 & Supp. 2019), and, accordingly, affirmed the trial court’s order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Petition of New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth & Families" on Justia Law

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Defendants Alan Johnson and William Saturley were the former co-trustees of the 2004 David A. Hodges, Sr. Irrevocable GST Exempt Trust and the 2004 David A. Hodges, Sr. Irrevocable GST Non-Exempt Trust (collectively, the 2004 Trusts). In 2017, the New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld a circuit court decision that set aside “decantings” from the 2004 Trusts and removed the Former Co-Trustees. The Court specifically left “for another day the issue of whether [the Former Co- Trustees] are entitled to indemnification for the fees and expenses incurred in this proceeding” because, at that time, the trial court had not ruled upon the issue. In this appeal, the Former Co-Trustees challenged the determination, recommended by a Judicial Referee and approved by the Circuit Court, that, except for attorney’s fees and costs incurred for certain administrative tasks: (1) they were not entitled to be reimbursed from the 2004 Trusts for the post-trial fees and costs they personally incurred to defend the decantings; and (2) they had to reimburse the 2004 Trusts for the fees and costs the trusts incurred to defend the decantings at trial. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hodges v. Johnson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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Defendant Keith Fitzgerald appealed a superior court order denying his motion for a new trial based on ineffective assistance of counsel. In December 2015, defendant was indicted on five counts of theft by unauthorized taking. Defense counsel, whose assistance is alleged to have been ineffective, was retained by defendant in March 2016, after defendant’s prior counsel withdrew. Defense counsel, defendant, and the prosecutor engaged in several plea discussions leading up to trial. Plea negotiations ultimately failed and the case went to trial. The jury heard testimony from the defendant that his father authorized the transactions. On cross-examination however, the State elicited a number of admissions from defendant, which defense counsel did not anticipate, that severely damaged defendant’s credibility and undercut his defense. The jury returned verdicts of guilty on all five counts of theft by unauthorized taking. Ultimately, the court sentenced defendant to a term of not less than nine and one-half years and not more than 25 years in the New Hampshire State Prison. After an evidentiary hearing on defendant's new trial motion, the court ruled that defendant failed to sustain his burden of showing that the outcome of his case would have been different but for his counsel’s performance. On appeal, defendant argued the trial court erred by concluding that, even if defense counsel rendered ineffective assistance, defendant was not prejudiced by: (1) defense counsel’s failure to adequately advise defendant regarding the merits of the State’s plea offer; or (2) counsel’s failure either to object to the trial court’s jury instructions on a sentence enhancement provision on the basis that it had not been presented to the grand jury for indictment, or to move for dismissal of the indictment on that same basis. The New Hampshire Supreme Court determined defense counsel did not adequately advise defendant about a sentence enhancement and the merits of the State's plea offer relative to defendant's likelihood of success at trial, and but for counsel's deficient performance, there was a reasonable probability that defendant would have accepted the State's plea offer. The Court therefore affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings. View "New Hampshire v. Fitzgerald" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Mentis Sciences, Inc. appealed a superior court order dismissing its claims for damages representing the cost of recreating lost data and lost business and negligence against defendant Pittsburgh Networks, LLC. Plaintiff was an engineering firm that, among other things, designed, developed, and tested advanced composite materials for United States Department of Defense customers. Since entering this sector in 1996, plaintiff acquired “a vast amount of valuable data that was utilized in its operations.” In 2010, the defendant began providing the plaintiff with technological support or “IT” services. In August 2014, defendant notified plaintiff that a drive in one of its servers had failed and would need to be replaced; a controller malfunctioned, causing the corruption of some of plaintiff’s data. Defendant attempted to recover the corrupted data; however, the data was permanently lost because defendant had failed to properly back it up. Plaintiff filed suit against defendant, alleging breach of contract and negligence. In its complaint, plaintiff alleged that the lost data “represents valuable intellectual property compiled over many years and is of daily critical use in [the plaintiff’s] business.” Further, plaintiff alleged that, as a result of the data loss, it was required to conduct “massively expensive” testing in order to recreate the data and that, without the lost data, it was “unable to bid or participate in various projects worth potentially millions of dollars.” Plaintiff argued on appeal of the dismissal of its suit that the trial court erred by: (1) concluding that the damages representing the cost of recreating lost data and lost business were consequential; (2) concluding that the limitation of liability clause in the parties’ contract is enforceable; and (3) dismissing its claim for negligence. The New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed because the damages sought by plaintiff were consequential and the limitation of liability clause in the parties' contract precluded plaintiff from recovering consequential damages. The Court also concluded the economic loss doctrine barred plaintiff’s negligence claim. View "Mentis Sciences, Inc. v. Pittsburgh Networks, LLC" on Justia Law

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Defendant Laura Williams appealed circuit court orders denying her petitions to annul records of conviction and arrest, as well as charges not resulting in conviction, because she had subsequent convictions. After review of the facts specific to defendant's request, the New Hampshire Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s denial of defendant’s petitions to annul: (1) two charges that did not result in conviction; and (2) convictions from October 2007 and November 2012 for simple assault. The matter was remanded for the trial court to exercise its discretion to determine whether granting the petitions would assist in defendant’s rehabilitation and was consistent with the public welfare. View "New Hampshire v. Williams" on Justia Law

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In February 2020, the 79-year-old ward was a patient at a hospital in Lebanon, New Hampshire. At that time, the hospital filed a petition to appoint a guardian over the ward’s person and estate. The hospital alleged a guardianship was necessary because the ward “has persistent cognitive impairment due to an anoxic brain injury and a major [neurocognitive] disorder,” which “renders him unable to provide for his personal needs for health care, food, clothing, shelter and safety” or to “manage his finances or estate.” The court held a hearing in March at which only the ward’s adult children were present. The ward’s children testified that, in October 2019, when their father was in the intensive care unit, they executed a “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) order for him. The ward had no DNR order previously. When the ward’s condition improved and he was transferred to a medical ward, he specifically told his children that he wanted the DNR order removed. Based upon the evidence at the March hearing, the court found that the ward was incapacitated and that a guardianship was necessary as a means of providing for his “continuing care ... and for the prudent management of [his] property and financial affairs.” The court limited the guardian’s authority to execute either a DNR order or an order limiting life-sustaining treatment. In August 2020, the guardian moved for a hearing to ask the court to remove the limitations on her authority regarding the ward’s medical care. The guardian averred that the ward, who now resided in a nursing home, was in need of dialysis but had refused dialysis on three occasions, and refused future treatment. The guardian asserted that, by declining to resume dialysis, “the ward himself has decided to stop his own life sustaining treatment,” and that “without having a DNR order in place and without anyone else having the ability to sign [one],” it will be “quite problematic and painful for the ward.” The ward’s attorney informed the court that the ward was “very clear that he did not want a DNR Order.” Upon interlocuroty transfer without a ruling from the circuit court, the New Hampshire Supreme Court accepted review of issues arising from the ward's guardianship. The Court determined that although the ward had a guardian to make health care decisions on his behalf, the trial court had limited the guardian’s authority to withhold life-sustaining treatment, including whether to execute a DNR order on his behalf. "Under these circumstances, given the ward’s lack of capacity to make health care decisions generally, and assuming that he does not have a valid and unrevoked living will or an authorized agent under a durable power of attorney for health care, the process for appointing a surrogate, as described in RSA 137-J:34-:37, applies. ... Accordingly, it does not appear that at this time, a DNR order may be executed on his behalf by his health care providers." View "In re Guardianship of D.E." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Red Oak Apartment Homes, LLC, appealed a superior court decision dismissing its complaint against defendant Strategis Floor & Decor, Inc. (Strategis), and dismissing plaintiff’s claims against Strategis on grounds that the court lacked personal jurisdiction. Plaintiff contracted with New Hampshire-based Holmes Carpet Center, LLC to install plank-style flooring in approximately 195 of its apartment units. Holmes recommended vinyl plank flooring that it represented would withstand rental use for many years. The majority of the floors installed by Holmes consisted of Versaclic LVT vinyl plank flooring manufactured by Strategis. The flooring was sold with a fifty-year warranty for residential applications. Shortly after the flooring was installed, plaintiff’s residents and employees began noticing that the flooring was shifting and large gaps were appearing between the flooring planks, near walls, and in doorway thresholds. Holmes performed repair work on the flooring in two of the affected units. Plaintiff thereafter filed a complaint in New Hampshire against Holmes, alleging breach of contract and violations of the Consumer Protection Act. Plaintiff amended its complaint to add: (1) N.R.F. Distributors, Inc. (N.R.F.), a flooring distributor that sold the flooring at issue to Holmes and, although a foreign corporation, was registered to do business in New Hampshire and had a registered business address in Augusta, Maine; (2) eight other defendants, seven of whom were subcontractors hired by Holmes to perform the flooring installation at plaintiff’s properties; and (3) Strategis, a foreign corporation with a principal business address in Quebec, Canada, that marketed and sold the flooring to N.R.F. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concurred with the trial court that plaintiff failed to establish Strategis, through in-state contacts, purposefully availed itself of the protection of New Hampshire's laws. None of Strategis' actions, either separately or jointly, constituted purposeful availment sufficient for the court to exercise personal jurisdiction. Thus, the Court affirmed dismissal of plaintiff's complaint against Strategis. View "Red Oak Apartment Homes, LLC v. Strategis Floor & Decor, Inc." on Justia Law

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Appellant John Burt, a member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, appealed a superior court order that dismissed his complaint against Stephen Shurtleff, in his official capacity as the Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives. In the complaint, appellant, together with co-plaintiffs Kevin Craig, Alicia Lekas, Tony Lekas, and Hershel Nunez, each a member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, alleged that House Rule 63 - which, with limited exceptions, prohibited the carrying or possession of any deadly weapon in Representatives Hall, as well as in the anterooms, cloakrooms, and House gallery - violated their fundamental rights under Part I, Article 2-a of the New Hampshire Constitution. The trial court dismissed the complaint, concluding that because the issue presented a nonjusticiable political question, the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The New Hampshire Supreme Court determined the issue as to whether House Rule 63 violated appellant's fundamental right to keep and bear arms under Part I, Article 2-a of the State Constitution was indeed justiciable, therefore the trial court erred when it dismissed the complaint. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Burt v. Speaker of the House of Representatives" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Bellevue Properties, Inc. appealed a superior court order affirming the Town of Conway’s decision to discontinue a public way that provided access to the plaintiff’s property. Plaintiff argued the trial court applied an incorrect legal standard to evaluate the Town’s decision and erred in concluding that the Town’s interests in discontinuing the road outweighed plaintiff’s interest in its continuance. After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court determined the trial court applied the proper legal standard, and its decision was supported by the record. View "Bellevue Properties, Inc. v. Town of Conway" on Justia Law