Justia New Hampshire Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Business 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

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In an interlocutory appeal, multiple hotel operators challenged a superior court’s orders in a suit against defendants, multiple insurance underwriters, all relating to the denial of coverage during the COVID-19 world health pandemic. Plaintiffs owned and operated twenty-three hotels: four in New Hampshire, eighteen in Massachusetts, and one in New Jersey. Plaintiffs purchased $600 million of insurance coverage from defendants for the policy period from November 1, 2019 to November 1, 2020. With the exception of certain addenda, the relevant language of the policies was identical, stating in part that it “insures against risks of direct physical loss of or damage to property described herein . . . except as hereinafter excluded.” For periods of time, pursuant to governors’ orders, hotels in each of the three states were permitted to provide lodging only to vulnerable populations and to essential workers. These essential workers included healthcare workers, the COVID-19 essential workforce, and other workers responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency. Beginning in June 2020, plaintiffs’ hotels were permitted to reopen with a number of restrictions on their business operations. Plaintiffs, through their insurance broker, provided notice to defendants they were submitting claims in connection with losses stemming from COVID-19. Plaintiffs sued when these claims denied, arguing that the potential presence of the virus triggered business loss provisions in their respective policies. To this, the New Hampshire Supreme Court disagreed, finding that “[w]hile the presence of the virus might affect how people interact with one another, and interact with the property, it does not render the property useless or uninhabitable, nor distinctly and demonstrably altered.” View "Schleicher & Stebbins Hotels, LLC, et al. v. Starr Surplus Lines Insurance Co., et al." on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire certified two questions of law for the New Hampshire Supreme Court's consideration. Plaintiffs, individuals who presently or formerly lived in the Merrimack area, brought tort claims, including negligence, nuisance, trespass, and negligent failure to warn, alleging that defendants’ manufacturing process at its facility in the Town of Merrimack used chemicals that included perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). They alleged PFOA was a toxic chemical that was released into the air from the Merrimack facility and has contaminated the air, ground, and water in Merrimack and nearby towns. As a result, plaintiffs alleged the wells and other drinking water sources in those places were contaminated, exposing them to PFOA, placing them at risk of developing health problems, including testicular cancer, kidney cancer, immunotoxicity, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, and pregnancy induced hypertension. The first question from the federal circuit court asked whether New Hampshire recognized “a claim for the costs of medical monitoring as a remedy or as a cause of action” in plaintiffs' context. Depending on the answer to the first question, the second question asked, “what are the requirements and elements of a remedy or cause of action for medical monitoring” under New Hampshire law. Because the Supreme Court answered the first question in the negative, it did not address the second question. View "Brown, et al. v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corporation, et al." on Justia Law

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Petitioner Tradz, LLC, appealed a New Hampshire Department of Safety, Bureau of Hearings (bureau) decision affirming the New Hampshire Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) decision to deny petitioner’s applications for title to ten motor vehicles. Petitioner argued the bureau erred by concluding that New Hampshire’s abandoned vehicle statute, RSA 262:40-a (2014), did not provide a basis for it to obtain title to the vehicles. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Appeal of Tradz, LLC" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Whitman Operating Co., LLC d/b/a Camp Walt Whitman, Wicosuta Operating Co., LLC d/b/a Camp Wicosuta, and Winaukee Operating Co., LLC d/b/a Camp Winaukee (collectively, the Camps), challenged a decision of respondent the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery (the Office for Emergency Relief), to deny their applications for money from the New Hampshire General Assistance and Preservation (GAP) Fund. In July 2020, the Governor authorized the allocation and expenditure of $30 million of CARES Act funds for the GAP Fund “to provide emergency financial relief to New Hampshire businesses and nonprofit organizations impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.” The Camps applied for GAP funding at the end of July 2020. Their applications were denied on September 10, 2020. The form letters notifying the Camps that their applications had been denied stated that “having high liquid assets both personal and business” was one of “[t]he most common reasons” for denying an application. The Camps argued: (1) denying their applications violated their state and federal constitutional rights to equal protection; and (2) the Office for Emergency Relief’s decision deprived them of their state and federal rights to procedural and substantive due process. Finding no deprivation of petitioners' rights, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the Office for Emergency Relief. View "Petition of Whitman Operating Co., LLC d/b/a Camp Walt Whitman et al." on Justia Law

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Defendant Foy Insurance Group, Inc. appealed a jury's verdict rendered in favor of the plaintiff, 101 Ocean Blvd., LLC (Ocean), finding that Foy was negligent for failing to advise Ocean to purchase sufficient insurance coverage to rebuild a hotel, damaged in a 2015 fire, in compliance with the current building code and awarding damages to Ocean. After review of the superior court record, the New Hampshire Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the trial court's denial of Foy's motions for a directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict. View "101 Ocean Blvd., LLC v. Foy Insurance Group, Inc." 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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Yunnan New Ocean Aquatic Product Science and Technology Group Co., Ltd. and subsidiaries (YOK defendants) appealed a New Hampshire superior court order attaching funds held by High Liner Foods (USA), Inc. (High Liner USA), the trustee defendant. The YOK defendants argued the trial court erred by maintaining quasi in rem jurisdiction over the funds despite concluding that it lacked personal jurisdiction over them in the underlying action. In 2012, Fortune Laurel, LLC, a Massachusetts company, entered into contracts with the YOK defendants to broker the sale of fish processed by the YOK defendants to companies in the United States and Canada. One company was located in Massachusetts, (later acquired by a Canadian company, High Liner Foods, Inc. (Canada)). High Liner Canada rebranded its corporate acquisition High Liner Foods (USA) and moved to Portsmouth. High Liner USA solicited fish from High Liner Canada, which procured the fish from international sellers, including the YOK defendants. The YOK defendants shipped the fish to High Liner USA in Massachusetts or Virginia. Upon High Liner USA’s acceptance of the fish, the YOK defendants invoiced High Liner USA and the invoice was paid by High Liner Canada, which then invoiced High Liner USA. After the written contract between Fortune Laurel and the YOK defendants expired, the YOK defendants continued to use Fortune Laurel to broker its sales with High Liner USA until 2017, when “the YOK defendants decided to exclude [Fortune Laurel] from the relationship.” Fortune Laurel claimed that the YOK defendants failed to pay commissions in 2017, improperly caused High Liner Canada to revoke its access to High Liner’s online tracking system, sold it fish for resale in Massachusetts that failed to meet applicable standards, and made fraudulent insurance claims that have negatively affected its business. Fortune Laurel also filed a petition for an ex parte attachment of funds that High Liner USA owed YOK as payment for shipments. The trial court found that several of Fortune Laurel’s claims were “wholly unrelated” to New Hampshire and thus that “dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction was appropriate.” Nonetheless, the trial court ruled that it could continue to exercise quasi in rem jurisdiction over the attached funds. The New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed because the trial court’s limited exercise of jurisdiction over the attached funds comported with due process requirements. View "Fortune Laurel, LLC v. High Liner Foods (USA), Incorporated, Trustee" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Alexander Walker, Jr. appealed a superior court order dismissing his claim of conspiracy to defame on res judicata grounds after finding privity between defendant Aaron Day, and other defendants in a separate defamation action. While plaintiff’s defamation action was pending, he filed a lawsuit against defendant, alleging a claim of conspiracy to commit defamation and seeking enhanced compensatory damages. The complaint described the defamation, which provided the basis for the conspiracy claim, in much the same terms as the complaint in the separate defamation action, but also alleged facts to support the conspiracy claim. Defendant moved to dismiss the conspiracy action on the grounds of, inter alia, res judicata, arguing, in part, that he was in privity with the defamation defendants for res judicata purposes. On appeal, plaintiff argued the trial court erred by: (1) deciding the privity issue at the motion to dismiss stage; and (2) applying the First Circuit Court of Appeals’ privity standard, rather than New Hampshire precedent, to determine privity. The New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed that the trial court erred by applying the privity standard used by the First Circuit, and, therefore, vacated the trial court’s ruling and remanded. View "Walker v. Day" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Pro Done, Inc. appealed a superior court order dismissing its amended complaint against defendants Teresa Basham, individually and as non-independent trustee of the Paul R. Hooper 1998 GST Exempt Trust, Terrence Hooper, Timothy Hooper, and John Ransmeier, trustee of the Paul R. Hooper 1997 Trust, for breach of contract, tortious interference with contractual relations, and civil conspiracy. Specifically, plaintiff challenged the trial court’s ruling that an alleged violation of a certain contractual provision did not provide a basis for plaintiff’s claims. After their father's death, defendant each received a portion of their father’s one-third ownership interest in three companies known as the Pro-Cut entities, to be held in trust by John Ransmeier. In 2012, the sibling defendants negotiated with Joseph Willey, another owner of the Pro-Cut entities, to sell their ownership interests. They eventually agreed upon a sale price, and in November 2013, Ransmeier, on the sibling defendants’ behalf, executed fifteen Securities Redemption Agreements (SRAs) with the Pro-Cut entities, the terms of which were stated to be binding upon “the heirs, personal representatives, successors and assigns of the parties.” After these transactions, one of the Pro-Cut entities, Brake Solutions, Inc., acquired another Pro-Cut entity. It then changed its name to Pro-Cut International, Inc. In May 2014, three unrelated companies, collectively known as Snap-on, purchased the Pro-Cut entities. Pro-Cut was renamed Pro Done, Inc. Plaintiff alleged it was a successor to the Pro-Cut entities. After Snap-on’s purchase of the Pro-Cut entities, the sibling defendants filed a lawsuit, with the assistance of Ransmeier, in federal district court, against Willey and trustees of trusts that were members of the Pro-Cut entities at the time of the Snap-on transaction. Plaintiff thereafter filed the underlying lawsuit to this appeal. Its central arguments were mainly the trial court erred by ignoring express terms of the release agreements - in which the defendants “covenant[ed] not to sue and otherwise agree[d] not to enforce any claim” against the plaintiff - and denied the plaintiff the opportunity to seek consequential damages for breach of the contract, contrary to New Hampshire law. The parties’ arguments presented a question of first impression for this the New Hampshire Supreme Court: whether New Hampshire law recognized a cause of action for breach of contract based upon a covenant not to sue where the contract did not expressly provide that the non-breaching party was entitled to consequential damages for breach of the covenant. The Court held that it did, reversed the trial court, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Pro Done, Inc. v. Basham" on Justia Law