Justia New Hampshire Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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Plaintiff TransFarmations, Inc. appealed a superior court decision to uphold the Town of Amherst Planning Board's (Town) decisions to deny TransFarmations' two successive applications for a conditional use permit (CUP). In May 2019, TransFarmations requested a “Conceptual Meeting” with the Town’s planning board (Board) concerning its proposed development of an approximately 130-acre property known as the Jacobson Farm. It stated that the “development will be designed to meet many of the desired attributes the Town . . . has articulated in [its] Master Plan and [Integrated] Innovative . . . Housing Ordinance (IIHO),” including workforce housing and over-55 housing. TransFarmations subsequently submitted a CUP application under the IIHO for a planned residential development containing 64 residential units. In its challenge to the decisions, TransFarmations argued both that the decisions failed to adequately state the ground for denial and that the Board acted unreasonably because the second CUP application was materially different from the first. The trial court concluded that the Board adequately provided the reason for its first decision on the record because “the Board members discussed, in detail, their reasons for concluding that no material differences [between the first and second applications] existed.” The court also concluded that “the Board acted reasonably and lawfully in reaching [that] decision.” Accordingly, the court affirmed both of the Board’s decisions. TransFarmations contended the trial court erred in affirming the Board’s decision not to accept the second application because TransFarmations submitted that application “at the Board’s invitation and with the information the Board requested.” The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded TransFarmations’ second application supplying the requested information was “materially different from its predecessor, thus satisfying Fisher.” Because the trial court’s decision concluding otherwise misapplied Fisher v. Dover, it was legally erroneous. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court’s order as to the second CUP decision and remanded. View "TransFarmations, Inc. v. Town of Amherst" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Keene Auto Body, Inc. appealed a circuit court order that dismissed its complaint against defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. Keene Auto Body, acting as an assignee of Caleb Meagher, who insured his vehicle through State Farm, sued State Farm for breach of contract for failing to cover the full cost of repairs to the insured’s vehicle. State Farm moved to dismiss the suit on grounds that, because of an anti-assignment clause in the insured’s policy, the insured’s assignment of his breach of contract claim to Keene Auto Body was not valid, and that, even if it was, Keene Auto Body did not sufficiently state a claim for breach of contract. The trial court granted the motion. The New Hampshire Supreme Court found the anti-assignment clause at issue here was ambiguous, and construed it against the insurer. Therefore, the clause did not prohibit the insured from assigning his post-loss claim to Keene Auto Body. Given this holding, the Supreme Court determined Keene Auto Body's factual allegations were sufficient to survive State Farm's motion to dismiss. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Keene Auto Body, Inc. v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Laura Colquhoun filed a complaint against defendant City of Nashua, after the City denied her Right-to-Know Law request for all email communications between two City employees during a specific two-month period. Plaintiff submitted a Right-to-Know Law request seeking access to “all email communications between Ms. Kleiner [the City’s Administrative Services Director] and Mr. Richard Vincent [the City’s Chief of Assessing] for the period of January 1, 2021 to March 1, 2021.” In its answer, the City asserted that a search of the email folders located on the computers of both named individuals was “likely to produce hundreds of pages of email communication between the two of them, the vast majority of them being duplicated at least once.” The City further explained that: (1) Vincent had begun employment with the City on approximately January 1, 2021; (2) Kleiner was his immediate supervisor; and (3) the Assessing Department “was in the midst of several projects which would have caused much communication between the two.” The City asserted that “emails that may be responsive to the request could be found in any of the approximately 29,000 files related to individual parcels assessed by the Department.” The City also argued “as a general matter, that Right-to-Know requests for ‘any and all’ documents are overbroad.” The court ordered the parties “to meet and confer within fourteen days and engage in a good faith effort to narrow and focus requests for the benefit of both the City and the requester.” (Citations and quotations omitted.) The court concluded by ordering the City “to conduct a reasonable search for responsive records in accordance with its burden under the Right-to-Know law.” The sole issue before the New Hampshire Supreme Court in this matter was whether the trial court erred by denying plaintiff’s request for attorney’s fees relating to her request. Because the Supreme Court was satisfied the record demonstrated that the City knew or should have known that its blanket denial violated the Right-to-Know Law, the Court concluded the trial court erred when it denied the plaintiff’s request for attorney’s fees and costs. View "Colquhoun v. City of Nashua" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Lorettann Gascard appealed a superior court order dismissing her complaint against defendants, Andrew Hall and Newspapers of New Hampshire, Inc., d/b/a Concord Monitor (Concord Monitor). The plaintiff asserts that the trial court erred in determining that a statement attributed to Hall and published in the Concord Monitor did not constitute defamation. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Gascard v. Hall et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Daniel Barufaldi, appealed a superior court dismissal of his complaint against defendant the City of Dover. Plaintiff was first hired as the Director of Economic Development for the Dover Business and Industry Development Authority (DBIDA) for a fixed term from March 2009 through February 2012. As a condition of his employment with DBIDA, plaintiff was required to waive participation in the New Hampshire Retirement System (NHRS). After his initial term of employment expired in 2012, plaintiff was reappointed for one-year extensions until 2017. In 2017, the City created a new Director of Economic Development position and appointed plaintiff to the position. Prior to executing a new employment agreement, plaintiff asked the Dover City Manager if he would now be eligible to participate in the NHRS. The Dover City Manager informed plaintiff that he was not eligible for enrollment in the NHRS because his employment contract was for “a fixed time period.” Around March 2020, plaintiff contacted the NHRS to inquire about his eligibility for enrollment. In July 2020, the NHRS notified the City that it was obligated to enroll plaintiff in the NHRS. The City subsequently enrolled plaintiff in the NHRS prospectively. Thereafter, the plaintiff submitted a “request for cost calculation to purchase service credit” because of “employer enrollment oversight.” The NHRS administratively reviewed the request and determined, pursuant to RSA 100-A:3, VI(d)(1), plaintiff was partially at fault for the failure to be enrolled in the NHRS following his appointment in 2017 as Director and, therefore, ineligible to purchase service credit. It also determined that DBIDA was not an NHRS participating employer and that plaintiff’s employment contract with DBIDA waived any right to participate in the NHRS. In a letter dated August 4, 2020, the NHRS notified plaintiff of its determination and informed him that he had 45 days in which to appeal the administrative decision by requesting a hearing before the agency. Plaintiff did not request such a hearing but, instead, filed a complaint in superior court. Plaintiff contended to the New Hampshire Supreme Court appealing dismissal of his case that the trial court erred in concluding that: (1) declaratory judgment was not an available theory of relief; and (2) plaintiff was required to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing suit. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Barufaldi v. City of Dover" on Justia Law

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Claimant Caitlyn Wittenauer, appealed a New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) decision denying her workers’ compensation benefits. In 2019, Claiming injured her left shoulder lifting boxes at her job with Nike, Inc. An MRI disclosed that her “left shoulder was dislocated, with the ball joint out of place.” She received corrective surgery on December 17, 2019, followed by months of physical therapy treatments. On April 21, 2020, the claimant’s treating physician approved her return to full-time work with restrictions on lifting. She returned to work at Nike in May. The claimant received temporary total disability benefits beginning October 16, 2019, and ending May 4, 2020. On September 3, 2020, the claimant reported to her treating physician that her shoulder was feeling stiff and she was experiencing pain “when she tries to do anything overhead.” He limited her work to five hours a day with no other restrictions. On September 25, the claimant complained of pain in the left side of her neck, and her treating physician took her out of work. On November 19, the physician reported that his examination of the claimant did not demonstrate “any overt shoulder instability” and noted that the shoulder was “really significantly better since surgery and really no evidence of any gross instability.” claimant sought temporary partial disability benefits for the period September 4, 2020 to September 25, 2020, and temporary total disability benefits beginning September 26, 2020. The CAB ruled that the claimant did not meet her burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence “that the medical treatments starting on 9/3/2020 and out of work order by [the treating physician] [was] causally related to the work injury on 8/15/2019.” On appeal, the claimant argues that the CAB erred: (1) by placing a burden upon her to demonstrate another work incident occurring between her return to work in May 2020 and her second onset of disability in September 2020; and (2) in failing to analyze and make findings as to whether her disability in September 2020 was due at least in part to the work injury she suffered in August 2019. The New Hampshire Supreme Court's review of the record supported the CABs determination. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "Appeal of Wittenauer" on Justia Law

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Petitioner The Lawson Group, the third-party administrator for the self-insured petitioner, Summit Packaging Systems (the employer), appealed a decision of the New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) that upheld a decision by respondent, the State Special Fund for Second Injuries (Second Injury Fund), to decline to reimburse The Lawson Group for benefits paid to the claimant. The employer hired the claimant in 2005 as a laborer and machine operator. The claimant was injured at work in January 2016, when she tried to catch a 65-pound spool of tubing as it fell. The claimant was out of work following the surgery, but returned in December 2016 in a modified duty capacity. In 2017, the CAB found that the claimant’s “surgery and subsequent treatment were and are related to the work injury” she suffered in January 2016. In August 2018, The Lawson Group applied to the Second Injury Fund for reimbursement. In a February 2019 letter, the Second Injury Fund denied The Lawson Group’s application because The Lawson Group had failed to: (1) establish that the claimant’s surgery constituted a subsequent disability by injury; and (2) demonstrate that the employer knew that the claimant had any permanent impairment before her surgery. Following a March 2020 hearing, the CAB upheld the Second Injury Fund’s denial of reimbursement. After a review of the CAB hearing record, the New Hampshire Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the denial of reimbursement. View "Appeal of The Lawson Group, et al." on Justia Law

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Intervenors Micheline Elias and The Fakhourys, LLC (collectively, the developer), appealed a superior court order denying their motion to dismiss a petition filed by the petitioners, George Stergiou, Jen McCarthy, Brendan Sullivan, and Kirankumar Tamminidi (the abutters), challenging a conditional site plan approval granted to the developer by the planning board (the Board) for the respondent City of Dover (the City). In January 2019, the developer applied to the Board for permission to construct a mixed use development project in Dover. After a public hearing, the Board conditionally approved the site plan (the 2019 Approval). The 2019 Approval and Chapter 153, Article II, Section 153-8 of the City’s site review regulations (the Certification Provision) required the developer to provide the Board with copies of the plan in various formats within 90 days. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the developer was unable to meet this deadline. In July 2020, the developer asked the Board to “re-approve” the 2019 application so that the project could move forward. The Board held a duly-noticed meeting, at which it conditionally re-approved the Site Review Plan subject to specified “Conditions to be Met Prior to the Signing of Plans” (the 2020 Approval). The abutters petitioned pursuant to RSA 677:15, challenging the 2020 Approval as unlawful and unreasonable. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the 2019 Approval was not timely appealed and remained in force, and the 2020 Approval was void ab initio. The Court thus affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded with instructions to dismiss, with prejudice, the abutters’ RSA 677:15, I, appeal as untimely. View "Stergiou et al. v. City of Dover" on Justia Law

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Respondent-Mother appealed circuit court orders entered during abuse and neglect proceedings regarding N.T. initiated by petitioner, the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), under RSA chapter 169-C (2014 & Supp. 2021). Mother argued the trial court erred when it denied her motion to dismiss the abuse and neglect petitions, claiming that, because the court failed to issue adjudicatory findings within sixty days of the filing of the petitions as required by RSA 169-C:15, III(d) (2014), the court lacked jurisdiction over the case. She also argued the court erred when it found that she had physically abused and neglected N.T. The New Hampshire Supreme Court held RSA chapter 169-C had multiple purposes that were advanced by the time limit in RSA 169-C:15, III(d): to protect the life, health, and welfare of the child, and to protect the rights of all parties involved in the abuse and neglect proceeding. "Because construing the time limit as jurisdictional would undermine all of these important objectives, we conclude that the legislature did not intend that the court be divested of jurisdiction as a consequence of its non-compliance with the deadline." In its review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court was satisfied the trial court did not err in finding Mother abused N.T. Accordingly, the circuit court orders were affirmed. View "In re N.T." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Jerry Gaucher appealed a superior court order denying his claim for payment of a $20,000 lease termination fee and awarding one of the defendants, Waterhouse Realty Trust (the Trust), costs associated with a separate eviction proceeding against plaintiff. Plaintiff argued the court erred by: (1) finding that he, and not defendants, materially breached a lease termination agreement (LTA); (2) awarding the Trust costs incurred in the separate eviction proceeding; and (3) awarding no damages in connection with the court’s prior final default judgment against another defendant, Kevin Waterhouse. After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the trial court properly found that plaintiff, and not defendants, materially breached the LTA and, therefore, he had no right to the termination fee. However, because defendants assigned all of their rights set forth in the LTA to a third party, the Supreme Court also concluded the trial court erred in finding that the Trust was entitled to the costs associated with plaintiff’s eviction. Lastly, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s reconsideration of its prior default judgment order against Kevin Waterhouse. View "Gaucher v. Waterhouse" on Justia Law