Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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In this declaratory judgment proceeding, petitioner Exeter Hospital, Inc. (Exeter) appealed a superior court order denying its motion for partial summary judgment as to the amount at which coverage was triggered under an umbrella policy (the policy) issued to Exeter by respondent Steadfast Insurance Company (Steadfast). In the spring of 2012, an outbreak of Hepatitis C infections among patients serviced by Exeter’s cardiac catheterization lab led investigators to discover that a technician had spread the virus to patients “through a clandestine drug diversion scheme.” The technician allegedly injected certain drugs into his body by way of intravenous needles, then reused the needles on patients, thereby infecting them with the virus. Numerous lawsuits were lodged against Exeter by affected patients. Exeter was primarily insured through a Self-Insurance Trust Agreement (SIT), which provided professional liability coverage in the amount of $1 million per medical incident, with a $4 million annual aggregate cap. Exeter also maintained the policy with Steadfast, which provided excess health care professional liability coverage. Steadfast maintained that it would pay damages only in excess of the $100,000 retained limit for each medical incident. Exeter filed this proceeding, seeking a declaration that it was not required to pay $100,000 retained limit per claim. The trial court interpreted the term “applicable underlying limit” as being a variable amount “dependent on the actual coverage remaining under [the] other [limits of] insurance,” here, the limits of the SIT. Because Exeter had paid out the limits of the SIT, the court found that the “applicable underlying limit” was zero, thereby rendering the $100,000 retained limit greater than the “applicable underlying limit.” Thus, the court determined that, pursuant to “Coverage A,” Steadfast was required “to pay damages in excess of $100,000 for each medical incident.” Exeter sought reconsideration of the court’s order, which the court denied. Although the New Hampshire Supreme Court did not agree with every underlying argument pressed by Exeter, it concluded that its overall argument regarding the interpretation of Coverage A was reasonable, and the trial court therefore erred in granting partial summary judgment as to the terms of Coverage A. View "Exeter Hospital, Inc. v. Steadfast Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Beverly Desmarais appealed the decision of the New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) denying her request for attorney’s fees and costs that she incurred in litigating a fee dispute with the respondents, Utica National Insurance Group (Utica) and AMI Graphics. The CAB determined that, although the Workers’ Compensation Law entitled the petitioner to attorney’s fees and costs associated with litigating the merits of her workers’ compensation claim, it did not further entitle her to fees and costs incurred in successfully litigating the fee dispute. The New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding that the evident purpose of paragraph VI of RSA 281-A:44 was to encourage claimants to obtain, and attorneys to provide, representation in a certain class of disputes regarding workers’ compensation benefits. The Court remanded to the CAB for a determination as to the reasonableness of the additional fees and costs that the petitioner incurred in litigating the fees and costs issue at the administrative level. Any party aggrieved by the CAB’s order on fees and costs may appeal to the Supreme Court pursuant to RSA chapter 541. View "Appeal of Beverly Desmarais" on Justia Law

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The New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed an order of the New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) denying 77 of Public Service Company of New Hampshire's (d/b/a Eversource Energy (PSNH) 86 individual tax abatement appeals on property located in 31 municipalities for tax year 2011, and 55 abatement appeals for tax year 2012. The New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission (PUC) granted PSNH exclusive franchises to provide certain electricity services within its territory. A municipality’s selectmen appraise the value of the property located within the municipality, including utility property. For the appeals that it granted, the BTLA found that the municipal assessors acknowledged a material degree of overassessment of the property at issue. The BTLA noted that PSNH’s burden in a tax abatement appeal was to demonstrate that the municipal assessments were disproportionate.The BTLA found that PSNH had made only “very general assertions regarding regulation and its alleged impact on the market value of [PSNH’s] property.” It therefore concluded that PSNH had failed to provide sufficient probative evidence that the utility regulatory environment in which PSNH operated, considering both the benefits and burdens of such regulation, was so restrictive that any prospective purchaser would be limited to a return based upon net book value. Thus, merely identifying the presence of regulation that may impact the market value of property was insufficient. Based upon its review of the record, the Supreme Court agreed with the BTLA, and found that the BTLA's findings were supported by the record with respect to PSNH's remaining claims. View "Appeal of Public Service Company of New Hampshire d/b/a Eversource Energy" on Justia Law

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New Hampshire Electric Cooperative, Inc. (NHEC) filed tax abatement appeals to the Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) for 23 municipal assessments of its property that occurred in 2011 and 2012. The BTLA held a consolidated hearing over nine days between January and February 2015 regarding NHEC’s tax abatement appeals. During the hearing, NHEC presented expert witness testimony and an appraisal of NHEC’s property from George Lagassa, a certified general real estate appraiser and the owner of Mainstream Appraisal Associates, LLC. In his appraisals, Lagassa estimated the market value of NHEC’s property by reconciling the results of four valuation approaches: a sales comparison approach; an income approach, which estimated the value of NHEC’s property by capitalizing the company’s net operating income; a cost approach, which estimated the net book value (NBV) of NHEC’s property by calculating the original cost less book depreciation (OCLBD) of NHEC’s property; and a second cost approach, which estimated the value of NHEC’s property by calculating the reproduction cost new less depreciation (RCNLD) of NHEC’s property. NHEC appeals the BTLA order denying 16 of NHEC’s 23 individual tax abatement appeals regarding its property. The New Hampshire Supreme Court found no reversible error in the BTLA’s order and affirmed it. View "Appeal of New Hampshire Electric Cooperative, Inc." on Justia Law

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RSA 461-A:11, I(a) permits a court to modify a parenting plan only when the parties agree to specific modification terms. Because the parties here disagreed about specific modification terms, they did not “agree to a modification,” and the trial court did not have authority to modify the parenting plan pursuant to RSA 461-A:11, I(a). Accordingly, because RSA 461-A:11, I(a) did not empower the trial court to modify the parenting plan, and because the record contained insufficient findings to permit the New Hampshire Supreme Court to determine whether the trial court properly modified the plan pursuant to RSA 461-A:11, I(c), the trial court’s order was reversed to the extent that modification of the parenting schedule was ordered pursuant to RSA 461-A:11, I(a). The Supreme Court also vacated the order to the extent that modification of the parenting schedule was ordered pursuant to a different subparagraph of RSA 461-A:11, I, and remanded for further proceedings. View "In the Matter of Kelly & Fernandes-Prabhu" on Justia 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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Based on the facts of this case, the New Hampshire Supreme Court found that the superior court erred in granting summary judgment, because the superior court gave no explanation for denying plaintiff’s contractual lien claim. Plaintiff Harvey Garod appealed a superior court order dismissing his conversion action against defendants R. James Steiner and Steiner Law Offices, PLLC. Plaintiff was retained by a client to pursue a personal injury action. In connection with the representation, the client signed plaintiff’s standard engagement contract. Plaintiff worked for the client for two years before being discharged without cause. The client subsequently hired defendants, who filed an action (underlying action) on behalf of the client. Defendants ultimately settled the underlying action on the client’s behalf. After the settlement of the underlying action, the client filed a motion to order that the settlement check be made “payable solely to [the client] and her counsel, R. James Steiner. On the same day, the plaintiff filed a series of motions in the underlying action, including a second motion to intervene wherein he asserted that he possessed a contractual lien, a motion for interpleader, and a motion to foreclose lien. The client objected to all these motions, and the court denied all of them without explanation. Plaintiff then filed suit against defendants, again alleging that he had an enforceable contractual lien for fees against the defendants. Defendants moved to dismiss the action, which was ultimately granted. In reversing the superior court’s order, the Supreme Court was persuaded by plaintiff’s argument that he may have had a valid lien, and the contract signed by the client was enforceable against defendants because defendants were aware of his lien at the time they were retained, and because the client should not be required to pay both lawyers’ fees. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Garod v. Steiner Law Office, PLLC" on Justia Law

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Respondent Town of New London (Town) appealed a superior court order granting summary judgment to petitioners Robert Carr and Raoul & Karen, LLC (Raoul & Karen), in their appeal of the Town’s denial of their request for a property tax abatement pursuant to RSA 76:16 (Supp. 2016). During the 2014 tax year, Carr owned property in the Town which he sold to Raoul & Karen. The house on the property was struck by lightning and burned to the ground on July 1, 2014, leaving only a few outbuildings on the property. As a result of the house’s destruction, the petitioners could not use it for 272 of the 365 days of the 2014 tax year. The Town assessed the house at $688,000 for that tax year. In the previous year, RSA 76:16 came into effect that provided for prorated tax assessments for buildings damaged under certain conditions. Petitioners did not apply for a proration of their property tax assessment, rather, they petitioned the Town for property tax abatement under RSA 76:16 in January 2015, six months after the home’s destruction. The Town did not dispute that petitioners filed their application for abatement under RSA 76:16 in a timely manner, but the Town denied petitioners’ application because they had not timely filed for proration under RSA 76:21. The trial court construed RSA 76:21 in petitioners’ favor, and ruled that the statute did “not limit taxpayers’ ability to apply for abatement under RSA 76:16.” The court then evaluated whether petitioners had shown “good cause” for abatement, and concluded that they had. Accordingly, the court granted summary judgment in petitioners’ favor. The Town appealed, but finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Carr & Town of New London" on Justia Law

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A maternal great-grandmother and a maternal step great grandfather appealed after a circuit court dismissed their petition for visitation with their minor great-grandchild. The circuit court found, and the New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed, that the great-grandparents lacked standing to bring suit. View "Petition of Willeke" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Beverly Cluff-Landry appealed a Superior Court order dismissing her case against defendant Roman Catholic Bishop of Manchester d/b/a St. Christopher School (the school). Two new students enrolled in the Pre-K program at the beginning of the 2011-2012 academic year, each of whom exhibited defiant behaviors, including “daily kicking, hitting, slapping, punching, spitting, biting, screaming, throwing things, and verbal abuse. Plaintiff reported to the principal “her concerns that the school was not adequately set up to handle [one of the students] due to his unsafe behaviors and the school’s inability to keep the other students safe, and that the behavior was in violation of the student-parent handbook.” In response to the plaintiff’s concerns, the principal “simply laughed.” The plaintiff continued to complain to the principal about the student, but the principal took no action. After the parents of a student complained that the defiant student was bullying their daughter, the principal expelled the defiant student. Thereafter, the principal’s alleged retaliation toward the plaintiff “escalated.” The principal ultimately placed the plaintiff on a “Teacher Improvement Plan.” She was given notice of the school’s intent to not renew her contract for the following school year in April; plaintiff’s last day of work was June 15, 2012. Plaintiff filed suit against the school alleging: (1) violations under the New Hampshire Whistleblowers’ Protection Act, by failing to renew her contract after she reported violations of school and public policies; (2) wrongful discharge, for failing to renew her contract; and (3) slander, based upon the principal’s comments to A&T. The school moved to dismiss, arguing that: (1) plaintiff’s factual allegations were insufficient to support a violation of the Act; (2) the wrongful discharge claim was barred by the statute of limitations, and also failed because the plaintiff’s employment was governed by a one-year contract; and (3) the alleged defamatory statements were not actionable because plaintiff consented to their publication. Following a hearing, the trial court granted the school’s motion. Finding no reversible error in the Superior Court’s judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Cluff-Landry v. Roman Catholic Bishop of Manchester" on Justia Law