Justia New Hampshire Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The case involves Chasrick Heredia, who was convicted on three counts of accomplice to contributing to the delinquency of a minor and one count of witness tampering. The charges stemmed from an incident where Heredia and another man, Matthew Hugle, provided alcohol to three underage girls who had run away from a substance abuse treatment facility. The girls later reported that they had been sexually assaulted by the two men. While in jail, Heredia wrote an encoded letter to Hugle, asking him to delete a video related to the incident, leading to additional charges of tampering with witnesses and solicitation to commit falsifying physical evidence.The Superior Court found Heredia guilty on the three charges of accomplice to intentional contribution to the delinquency of a minor, one count of witness tampering, and one count of solicitation to commit falsifying physical evidence. However, he was acquitted on charges of aggravated felonious sexual assault and felonious sexual assault.On appeal to the Supreme Court of New Hampshire, Heredia challenged his convictions for witness tampering and accomplice to contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The Supreme Court vacated the witness tampering conviction on double jeopardy grounds, agreeing with Heredia that his separate convictions and sentences for both witness tampering and solicitation to commit falsifying physical evidence violated the prohibition against double jeopardy under the State Constitution. The court also reversed the three convictions for accomplice to contributing to the delinquency of a minor, finding that the evidence was insufficient to prove those charges. The case was remanded for consideration of resentencing. View "State v. Heredia" on Justia Law

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The case involves a divorced couple, Bradley Carter (father) and Rachel Carter (mother), who have two children. Following their divorce, the mother, who had an alcohol use disorder, was granted supervised visits with her children twice a month. After two years of sobriety and the impending closure of their visitation center, the mother requested unsupervised visits and weekends with her children, which the father opposed.The Circuit Court initially sent the parties to mediation, which proved unsuccessful. At the final hearing, the mother requested two modifications of her parental rights and responsibilities: unsupervised parenting time and an expansion of her parenting time. The Circuit Court denied her request, maintaining the schedule of two, two-hour supervised visits with the mother per month with a mutually agreeable supervisor. The mother appealed this decision.The Supreme Court of New Hampshire reviewed the case. The mother argued that the trial court improperly narrowed its “present environment” inquiry to the children’s routine with the father and failed to consider other factors, including the infrequency of their contact with their mother. The Supreme Court agreed with the mother, stating that the children’s “present environment” is determined by assessing the surroundings or conditions in which the children now exist, which includes their daily activities, mental and emotional states, and their needs.The Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s order denying the mother’s request for a modification of parenting time and remanded for the trial court to reconsider her request. The Supreme Court also vacated the court’s denial of her request for unsupervised visitation, allowing the parties to clarify the statutory basis for the relief they are requesting on remand. View "In the Matter of Carter & Carter" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, John Alexander Cucchi, owns a parcel of land south of Skatutakee Lake in Harrisville, New Hampshire. His property abuts the southern edge of Skatutakee Lake Road, which runs along the southern shore of the lake. A narrow strip of land, the disputed parcel, lies between the northern edge of the roadway and the lake. Both Cucchi and Pamela Worden, who owns adjacent land, claim ownership of this disputed parcel. Cucchi's claim traces back to a 1999 deed, while Worden's claim is based on a 2002 deed from the same original owner. In 2021, the Town of Harrisville conveyed most of its rights in the disputed parcel to Worden.The Superior Court granted summary judgment in favor of Worden and the Town of Harrisville, determining that Worden owned the disputed parcel and that Cucchi therefore lacked standing to challenge the Town’s release of its interest in the right-of-way to Worden. The court applied the presumption that landowners abutting public highways have fee ownership to the center of the road and concluded that the 1999 deed conveyed a fee interest only to the center of the traveled roadway.Upon appeal, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire reversed the lower court's decision in part, vacated in part, and remanded the case. The Supreme Court applied the whole-road presumption, which states that if a deed conveys to the side of a road, the effect is to convey the entire road if the grantor owns the land under the road and does not own the land on the other side. The court concluded that the 1999 deed did not reserve the fee underneath the right-of-way, and therefore, the whole-road presumption controls. The court determined that the 1999 deed conveyed the disputed parcel, and Cucchi now owns the underlying fee. The court remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. View "Cucchi v. Town of Harrisville" on Justia Law

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The case involves four police officers, Robert Bellenoit, Richard Brown, Gregory Ditullio, and Jacob Tyler, who were employed by the City of Manchester. Each officer was a member of a collective bargaining unit and was hired before 2008. Between 2015 and 2018, each officer was injured during their employment and filed a workers' compensation claim with the City. While these claims were being resolved, the City paid each officer accrued sick leave benefits. Once the officers were deemed eligible for workers' compensation benefits, they received payments from the City equivalent to the sick leave benefits they had previously received.In 2019, the City demanded that each officer repay the sick leave benefits they had received while their eligibility for workers' compensation was pending or being appealed. The officers argued that they had a vested right to restoration of their sick leave benefits without the requirement of repayment. The Superior Court granted the City's motions for summary judgment and denied the officers' motions, ruling that the officers did not have a vested right to restoration of sick leave benefits without the requirement of repayment.The officers appealed the decision, arguing that the trial court erred in determining that they did not have a vested right to the restoration of sick leave credit without the requirement of repayment. The Supreme Court of New Hampshire affirmed the lower court's decision, concluding that the officers did not have a vested right to the benefits provided in the pre-2008 amendment and that the post-2008 amendment applied to them. The court reasoned that the officers did not earn the benefit set forth in the pre-2008 amendment and that the post-2008 amendment became the law of the contract, governing where the collective bargaining agreement was silent. View "City of Manchester v. Bellenoit" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around the defendant, Teagan David Collins, who was convicted on two counts of criminal threatening and one count of misdemeanor disorderly conduct. The charges stemmed from an incident at a nightclub where Collins was asked to leave due to his behavior. After leaving, Collins returned to the nightclub with a firearm to retrieve his debit card and jacket. The head of security testified that Collins revealed his firearm and made threatening remarks. Collins, however, denied these allegations and claimed he only revealed his firearm later when he felt threatened by two nightclub employees following him.The Superior Court convicted Collins, rejecting his request for a self-defense instruction to the jury. The court reasoned that there was insufficient evidence to suggest that Collins reasonably believed there was going to be an imminent use of unlawful, nondeadly force against him.Upon appeal to the Supreme Court of New Hampshire, Collins argued that the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on self-defense. He contended that the nightclub employees following him on the street constituted a threat of non-deadly force. The Supreme Court, however, upheld the lower court's decision. The court noted that the indictment alleged that Collins committed the crime when he confronted the head of security at the nightclub's entrance, not when he was followed by the employees. Furthermore, Collins denied the specific conduct alleged in the indictment, which contradicted his self-defense claim. The court concluded that Collins was not entitled to a self-defense instruction under these circumstances. The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision. View "State v. Collins" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The defendant, Roland Higgins, was convicted on sixteen counts of possession and six counts of distribution of child sexual abuse images. The evidence against him included images downloaded from a BitTorrent account associated with his IP address, as well as devices seized from his residence containing similar content. During an interview with law enforcement, Higgins admitted to viewing child pornography in the past but claimed he deleted any illicit images from his computers. He also denied knowingly sharing files from his computer through BitTorrent.The Superior Court found the defendant guilty on all counts. Higgins appealed, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he knowingly possessed and distributed the files specified in the indictments. He claimed that he inadvertently downloaded and subsequently shared the specified files without knowing their content or presence on his computer.The Supreme Court of New Hampshire affirmed the lower court's decision. The court concluded that there was sufficient evidence to support the defendant’s convictions beyond a reasonable doubt. The court reasoned that the defendant's admission to viewing child pornography in the past, his understanding of how BitTorrent works, and the presence of hundreds of torrent files with names consistent with child sexual abuse images on his devices provided circumstantial evidence of his knowledge of the files he obtained from BitTorrent. The court also rejected the defendant's argument that the presence of child pornography in a default download folder that is shared by default is insufficient to establish knowing distribution. The court found that when an individual consciously makes files available for others to take and those files are in fact taken, distribution has occurred. View "State v. Higgins" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The case revolves around a defendant, Jacob M. Farrell, who was convicted of aggravated felonious sexual assault (AFSA), pattern AFSA, and felonious sexual assault. The defendant had a romantic relationship with the victim's mother, and they lived together along with the victim and the victim's sibling. The defendant sexually assaulted the victim multiple times, and the victim reported the assaults in March 2019, leading to the defendant's indictment on three counts of sexual assault charges.Prior to the trial, the defendant filed a motion to exclude any evidence related to the victim's sibling, including any misconduct by the defendant against the sibling. The State did not object, and the trial court granted the motion. During the trial, the victim's mother testified that the defendant had been spending more time with both children. On cross-examination, she mentioned that the victim had disclosed other things that the sibling had said. The defense moved for a mistrial, arguing that this testimony violated the motion in limine and had "poisoned" the jury. The trial court denied the motion for a mistrial, concluding that the testimony did not unambiguously convey that the defendant had committed a criminal act against the victim's sibling.The Supreme Court of New Hampshire affirmed the lower court's decision. The court concluded that the testimony did not unambiguously convey to the jury that the defendant had committed a criminal act against the victim's sibling. The court noted that several innocuous inferences could be drawn from the testimony, and it was not so prejudicial as to be incurable by an appropriate jury instruction. The court also disagreed with the defendant's assertion that the testimony leading up to the statement rendered the testimony at issue unambiguous. The court held that the trial court's decision to deny the defendant's request for a mistrial was not an unsustainable exercise of discretion. View "State v. Farrell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The case revolves around John Doyle, who was charged with crimes stemming from a domestic dispute. In August 2019, the trial court ordered Doyle to undergo a competency evaluation, and his mental health and medical records were provided to the Office of the Forensic Examiner (OFE). The court specified that these records could only be used to determine competency and not for any other proceeding without a court order. The OFE concluded that Doyle was not competent to stand trial but could be restored to competence with appropriate treatment. However, an independent examiner concluded that Doyle was unlikely to be restored to competency. In August 2021, the OFE re-evaluated Doyle and concluded that he had not been restored to competency and was dangerous to himself or others.The trial court had previously ruled that Doyle's medical and mental health records were exempt from the physician-patient and psychotherapist-patient privileges, allowing the State to release these records to a physician designated by the State for assessing the appropriateness of involuntary commitment. Doyle appealed this decision, arguing that the court erred in ruling that his records were exempt from these privileges.The Supreme Court of New Hampshire vacated the trial court's decision and remanded the case. The Supreme Court found that the trial court erred in determining that Doyle's medical and mental health records were exempt from statutory privileges under RSA 135:17-a, V. The court concluded that these records were privileged under RSA 329:26 and RSA 330-A:32, and the trial court erred in determining that they were exempt from these privileges. The case was remanded for further proceedings to determine whether there were grounds for disclosing the privileged information. View "State v. Doyle" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, Charles W. Cole, was walking on a brick sidewalk in North Conway Village, a village of the Town of Conway, when he tripped and fell due to holes in the sidewalk caused by missing or broken bricks. The plaintiff alleged that the Town of Conway was aware of the sidewalk's disrepair prior to his injury and had received written notice of the damaged bricks and holes. The plaintiff filed a negligence lawsuit against the Town of Conway in superior court.The Town of Conway moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that it was entitled to statutory immunity as the plaintiff had failed to allege with particularity how the Town had received written notice of the sidewalk's condition. The plaintiff objected, arguing that the complaint contained sufficient particularity and that the Town was barred from claiming statutory immunity because it was insured against the risk through Primex. The trial court granted the Town's motion to dismiss, concluding that the plaintiff had failed to plead with sufficient particularity that the Town had received notice of the holes in the sidewalk, and that Primex's pooled risk management program did not constitute an insurance policy within the meaning of the relevant statute. The trial court also denied the plaintiff's motion for leave to amend his complaint.The Supreme Court of New Hampshire affirmed in part and reversed in part. The court agreed with the trial court that Primex's pooled risk management program did not constitute "insurance" within the meaning of the relevant statute, and thus the Town was not barred from claiming statutory immunity. However, the court reversed the trial court's denial of the plaintiff's motion for leave to amend his complaint, finding that the plaintiff's proposed amendments could potentially satisfy the particularity requirement of the statute. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Cole v. Town of Conway" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a dispute between Private Jet Services Group, LLC (PJS), a private aircraft booking agent, and Tauck, Inc., a provider of domestic and international guided tours. The parties had entered into an "Air Charter Services Blanket Purchase Agreement" (BPA) in January 2018, which established the terms under which Tauck would book and pay for air transportation for the New Zealand portion of its Australia and New Zealand tours. In May 2018, they executed a Statement of Work (SOW) that required Tauck to guarantee a minimum of fifty tours per year and to pay PJS an agreed-upon sum for each "missed" tour. The SOW also included a force majeure clause that protected PJS from delays, losses, or damages caused in whole or in part by force majeure events, including epidemics and acts of civil or military authority.The dispute arose when the COVID-19 pandemic prevented Tauck from conducting tours in New Zealand. After Tauck cancelled its remaining 2020 tours, PJS sued Tauck in the New Hampshire federal court alleging a breach of contract. Tauck responded by invoking the doctrines of impossibility and frustration of purpose to excuse performance of its obligations under the contracts. Both parties moved for summary judgment on the count relating to the 2020 tour season, which the district court denied without prejudice. The district court then certified a question to the Supreme Court of New Hampshire regarding the interpretation of the force majeure clause and its impact on the common law defenses of impossibility, impracticability, and frustration of commercial purpose.The Supreme Court of New Hampshire held that the common law contract defenses of impossibility, impracticability, and frustration of commercial purpose are so fundamentally related to contract formation and purpose that they remain viable unless expressly waived. Therefore, a force majeure clause that protects only one party to a contract should not be deemed, in and of itself, a relinquishment of the other party’s right to interpose those common law defenses. The case was remanded back to the lower court for further proceedings. View "Private Jet Services Group, LLC v. Tauck, Inc." on Justia Law