Articles Posted in Business Law

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Plaintiff DirecTV, Inc. appealed a superior court decision denying a petition for property tax abatement for the tax years 2007, 2008, and 2009. The property at issue was located in New Hampton and used by DirecTV as a satellite uplink facility. On appeal, DirecTV argued that the trial court erred when it: (1) ruled that satellite antennas and batteries used to provide backup power constituted fixtures; and (2) determined the value of the property. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded after review that the antennas and batteries were not fixtures, and therefore, taxable as real estate. The Court reversed the superior court on that issue, vacated its decision on the valuation of the property, and remanded for further proceedings. View "DirecTV, Inc. v. Town of New Hampton" on Justia Law

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In 1992, brothers Mark, Matthew, and Patrick McDonough established TASC, a corporation that provided technical engineering services. In September 1995, the brothers converted TASC to a Limited Liability Company (LLC). The brothers had a falling out. As a result, Mark sued the defendants seeking a declaration that TASC must dissolve by September 30, 2015, pursuant to its certificate of formation and operating agreement. Both parties moved for summary judgment. After a hearing, the trial court ruled that: (1) an August 7 dissolution and revocation had no effect on TASC’s governing documents; and (2) TASC was not required to dissolve because its operating agreement permits a majority of its members to continue the company. Consequently, it denied summary judgment to Mark and granted summary judgment to defendants. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "McDonough v. McDonough" on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law

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Plaintiff Alice Finn appealed a Superior Court order denying her motion to affirm, and granting the defendants Ballentine Partners, LLC (BPLLC), Ballentine & Company, Inc., Roy C. Ballentine, Kyle Schaffer, Claudia Shilo, Andrew McMorrow, and Gregory Peterson's motion to vacate a final arbitration award. Ballentine and Finn founded Ballentine Finn & Company, Inc. (BFI). Each owned one half of the company’s stock, and Finn served as the Chief Executive Officer. Later, four other individuals became shareholders of BFI. In 2008, Ballentine and the other shareholders forced Finn out of the corporation and terminated her employment. At the time of her termination, Finn held 37.5% of the shares of BFI. BFI gave Finn a promissory note in the amount of $4,635,684, which represented 1.4 times earnings for her shares for the 12 months before her termination. This amount was below the fair market value of Finn’s shares. Finn challenged her termination before an arbitration panel in 2009. This first arbitration panel found that Finn’s termination was unlawful and awarded her $5,721,756 for the stock that BFI forced her to sell and $720,000 in lost wages. The panel recognized that BFI likely did not have sufficient liquidity to pay the award immediately, so it authorized BFI to make periodic payments. After the first panel award, BFI formed BPLLC, contributed all of its assets and some of its liabilities to BPLLC, and became its sole member. BFI then changed its name to Ballentine & Company. After the reorganization, Ballentine & Co. sold 4,000 preferred units, a 40% membership interest in BPLLC, to Perspecta Investments, LLC. Perspecta paid $7,000,000 to Ballentine & Co. and made a $280,000 capital contribution to BPLLC. The defendants asserted that the membership interest had to be sold in order to raise funds to pay the arbitration award to Finn. In 2013, Finn filed a complaint and a motion to compel arbitration in superior court, alleging that she was entitled to relief under the “Claw Back” provision of the Agreement. The defendants moved to dismiss Finn’s complaint, arguing that it was barred by res judicata. A second arbitration concluded that Finn was entitled to an award based upon an unjust enrichment claim. and awarded Finn $600,000 in equitable relief. Returning to court, Finn moved to affirm, and the defendants moved to vacate in part, the second arbitration award. Applying the "plain mistake" standard of review found in RSA 542:8, the trial court ruled that the second panel’s award of additional damages to Finn on her unjust enrichment claim was barred by res judicata. Finn moved for reconsideration, arguing that the FAA applied to this case. The trial court denied the motion. Because the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that the trial court did not err in ruling that RSA 542:8 was not preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), and that the second arbitration panel committed a plain mistake of law by concluding that res judicata did not bar Finn’s claim, it affirmed. View "Finn v. Ballentine Partners, LLC" on Justia Law

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In consolidated appeals, petitioners Deere & Company, CNH America LLC (CNH), AGCO Corporation (AGCO), Kubota Tractor Corporation (Kubota), and Husqvarna Professional Products, Inc. (Husqvarna), all appealed superior court orders that granted summary judgment to the State on their constitutional challenges to Senate Bill (SB) 126. SB 126 was enacted in 2013, amending RSA chapter 357-C to define "motor vehicle" as including "equipment," which "means farm and utility tractors, forestry equipment, industrial equipment, construction equipment, farm implements, farm machinery, yard and garden equipment, attachments, accessories, and repair parts." Like its federal counterpart and similar state statutes, RSA chapter 357-C, "the so-called ‘dealer bill of rights,''" was enacted "to protect retail car dealers from perceived abusive and oppressive acts by the manufacturers." RSA chapter 357-C regulated, among other things, a manufacturer's delivery and warranty obligations and termination of dealership agreements. RSA chapter 357-C also defines unfair methods of competition and deceptive practices. Violation of any provision of RSA chapter 357-C constitutes a misdemeanor. Petitioners manufactured agricultural, construction, forestry, industrial, lawn, and garden equipment, including commercial mowers, wheel loaders, backhoes, and agricultural tractors. Their complaint alleged that: (1) retroactive application of SB 126 substantially impaired their existing dealership agreements in violation of the State and Federal Contract Clauses; and (2) SB 126 violated the Supremacy Clause of the Federal Constitution because it voided or otherwise rendered unenforceable mandatory binding arbitration clauses in existing dealership agreements, thereby conflicting with the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). In sum, the New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld SB 126 against petitioners' claims that it violated the State and Federal Contract Clauses. The Court agreed with the trial court that the preempted provisions were severable from the remaining provisions of RSA chapter 357-C as applied to petitioners. The Court rejected Husqvarna's argument that SB 126 violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Federal Constitution. The Court also rejected Husqvarna's contention that SB 126 had either a discriminatory purpose or effect within the meaning of the dormant Commerce Clause. Nonetheless, the Court vacated the trial court's grant of summary judgment to the State on Husqvarna's dormant Commerce Clause claim and remanded for the trial court to consider, in the first instance, whether SB 126 was unconstitutional under the "Pike" balancing test. View "Deere & Co. v. New Hampshire" on Justia Law

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Steven Cohen met John Raymond when Raymond began dating Cohen’s stepdaughter, Molly, whom Raymond eventually married. Cohen owned a successful scrap metal company and offered Raymond a job. Cohen knew a broker and private wealth manager at Merrill Lynch, and Cohen testified that he wanted to help Raymond learn about investment through that broker. To set up an investment account, Merrill Lynch required a minimum deposit of $250,000. Cohen deposited this amount into an account in Raymond’s name, later testifying at trial that he considered the money to be “seed money” for a business that he planned to open with Raymond. Although Raymond testified that he never intended to go into business with Cohen, the trial court found that “the parties had decided to enter the recycling business together.” Raymond and Molly decided to divorce. Raymond then withdrew $50,000 from the Merrill Lynch account, which he used for “personal purposes.” Upon learning of the divorce and withdrawal, Cohen demanded that Raymond repay him the $250,000, and then sued Raymond in superior court. Cohen claimed that the money was a loan, and that he was entitled to repayment with interest at 5% or 6%. In the alternative, Cohen claimed that Raymond had been unjustly enriched, and that he was entitled to restitution. In his argument on unjust enrichment, Cohen suggested, for the first time, that the $250,000 was a conditional gift. Cohen, appealed the trial court’s ruling that the $250,000 deposited into the investment account was an unconditional gift. Cohen argued, among other things, that the trial court erred by: (1) finding that the $250,000 was an unconditional gift, rather than a loan or a conditional gift; and (2) presuming that the $250,000 was a gift, thereby placing the burden on Cohen to show that it was not a gift. The New Hampshire Supreme Court vacated and remanded: Raymond was Cohen’s son-in-law, thus, the gift presumption did not apply, and the burden should have been on Raymond to prove that Cohen intended to give him the $250,000 as a gift. View "Cohen v. Raymond" on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law, Contracts

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In a declaratory judgment action, the State appealed a superior court order granting summary judgment in favor of plaintiff STIHL Incorporated (individually, and d/b/a Northeast STIHL). STIHL is a corporation that manufactures, distributes, and sells an array of handheld power and non-power tools such as chain saws, leaf blowers, hedge trimmers, axes, pruners, and mauls. Although many of its products have engines, none has wheels, engine and transmission, or is capable of transporting a person from one location to another. In 1981, the legislature enacted RSA chapter 357-C, the so-called “dealer bill of rights,” to regulate, among others, automotive manufacturers and dealers. the legislature increased the level of regulation it imposed. As the legislature expanded RSA chapter 357-C, it also enacted RSA chapter 347-A, a similar but less comprehensive regulatory scheme providing protections to equipment dealers. After the enactment of SB 126, STIHL sought a declaratory judgment that RSA chapter 357-C, as amended, did not apply to it. The State countered that, as a “forestry” and “yard and garden” equipment manufacturer, STIHL was subject to regulation under RSA chapter 357-C. Both parties moved for summary judgment. The trial court found that RSA chapter 347-A, before it was repealed, regulated STIHL’s agreements with its dealers because, under that statutory scheme, the legislature chose to broadly define the term “equipment.” Nevertheless, the court concluded that because STIHL produces only handheld, not ground-supported or wheeled, equipment, it falls outside of the purview of amended RSA chapter 357-C. Finding no reversible error in the superior court’s judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "STIHL, Inc. v. New Hampshire" on Justia Law

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After a bench trial, the court denied plaintiff Celestica, LLC’s request for a declaration that defendant Communications Acquisitions Corporation d/b/a Whaleback Managed Services (CAC) was obligated to pay the balance of a judgment that Celestica had obtained against another business, the assets of which CAC had purchased at public auction. Specifically, the trial court ruled that, when CAC purchased the assets of Whaleback Systems Corporation, the transaction did not amount to a de facto merger between the two companies. On appeal, Celestica argued that the trial court erred by not imposing successor liability upon CAC under the de facto merger doctrine. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Celestica, LLC v. Communications Acquisitions Corp." on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law

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Defendant was a Michigan-based company that “assists corporations in complying with regulations associated with the conduct of corporate business by supplying annual corporate consent documents” by way of direct mail. Defendant mailed solicitations to potential customers. Its New Hampshire mailing address was “a private mailbox used as a clearinghouse to receive and bundle orders from New Hampshire customers.” According to defendant, as a result of these direct mailings, it made sales in New Hampshire totaling $12,625. A grand jury indicted defendant on 27 felony violations of the Consumer Protection Act, encompassing three sets of nine charges, all stemming from defendant’s allegedly deceptive use of the New Hampshire mailing address in 2013. The State appealed a Superior Court order dismissing the 27 indictments, ruling that the indictments were defective because they alleged that the defendant acted with the mental state of “knowingly,” and not “purposely.” Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s judgment. View "New Hampshire v. Mandatory Poster Agency, Inc." on Justia Law

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Petitioner Stephen Forster, d/b/a Forster's Christmas Tree Farm & Gift Shoppe, appealed a superior court decision to uphold a zoning board of adjustment (ZBA) determination in favor of respondent the Town of Henniker that "weddings [and] like events are not accessory uses" to the petitioner's farm, and that hosting such events was not a permitted use in the farm's zoning district. Because the Supreme Court concluded that petitioner has not established, as he argued, that he had a right to conduct commercial weddings and similar events on his farm, without obtaining either a special exception or a variance, it affirmed. View "Forster v. Town of Henniker" on Justia Law

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The respondents, Shared Towers VA, LLC and NH Note Investment, LLC, appealed, and petitioner Joseph Turner, individually and as trustee of the Routes 3 and 25 Nominee Trust, cross-appealed, Superior Court orders after a bench trial on petitioner’s petition for a preliminary injunction enjoining a foreclosure sale and for damages and reasonable attorney’s fees. The parties’ dispute stemmed from a commercial construction loan agreement and promissory note secured by a mortgage, pursuant to which petitioner was loaned $450,000 at 13% interest per annum to build a home. Respondents argued the trial court erred when it: (1) determined that they would be unjustly enriched if the court required the petitioner to pay the amounts he owed under the note from November 2009 until April 2011; (2) applied the petitioner’s $450,000 lump sum payment to principal; (3) excluded evidence of the petitioner’s experience with similar loans; (4) ruled that, because the promissory note failed to contain a "clear statement in writing" of the charges owed, as required by RSA 399-B:2 (2006), respondents could not collect a $22,500 delinquency charge on the petitioner’s lump sum payment of principal; and (5) denied the respondents’ request for attorney’s fees and costs. Petitioner argued that the trial court erroneously concluded that respondents’ actions did not violate the Consumer Protection Act (CPA). After review, the Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded: contrary to the trial court’s decision, petitioner’s obligation to make the payments was not tolled. Because the loan agreement and note remained viable, it was error for the trial court to have afforded the petitioner a remedy under an unjust enrichment theory. The trial court made its decision with regard to the payment of $450,000 in connection with its conclusion that the petitioner was entitled to a remedy under an unjust enrichment theory. Because the Supreme Court could not determine how the trial court would have ruled upon this issue had it not considered relief under that equitable theory, and because, given the nature of the parties’ arguments, resolving this issue requires fact finding that must be done by the trial court in the first instance, it vacated that part of its order and remanded for further proceedings. In light of the trial court’s errors with regard to the attorney’s fees and costs claimed by respondents, the Supreme Court vacated the order denying them, and remanded for consideration of respondents’ request for fees and costs. The Supreme Court found no error in the trial court’s rejection of petitioner’s CPA claim. View "Turner v. Shared Towers VA, LLC" on Justia Law