Justia New Hampshire Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Plaintiff Scott Paine appealed a superior court decision granting judgment on the pleadings for his employment discrimination claim against defendant, Ride-Away, Inc. Plaintiff suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for many years, which substantially limited a major life activity. He was employed by defendant at its facility in Londonderry, New Hampshire as an automotive detailer in May 2018. In July 2018, his physician prescribed cannabis to help treat his PTSD, and plaintiff enrolled in New Hampshire’s therapeutic cannabis program. Plaintiff submitted a written request to defendant for an exception from its drug testing policy as a reasonable accommodation for his disability. Plaintiff explained that he was not requesting permission to use cannabis during work hours or to possess cannabis on defendant’s premises. Plaintiff was informed that he could no longer work for the company if he used cannabis. After plaintiff notified defendant that he was going to treat his PTSD with cannabis, his employment was terminated in September 2018. Plaintiff sued for employment discrimination, based on defendant’s failure to make reasonable accommodation for his disability. Defendant moved for judgment on the pleadings, asserting that, because marijuana use was both illegal and criminalized under federal law, the requested accommodation was facially unreasonable. After a hearing, the trial court granted defendant’s motion. The sole question before the New Hampshire Supreme Court was whether the court erred in ruling that the use of therapeutic cannabis prescribed in accordance with New Hampshire law could not, as a matter of law, be a reasonable accommodation for an employee’s disability under RSA chapter 354-A. The Supreme Court held the trial court erred in determining that the use of therapeutic cannabis prescribed in accordance with RSA chapter 126-X could not, as a matter of law, be a reasonable accommodation for an employee’s disability under RSA chapter 354-A. "[P]laintiff’s disability is PTSD, not the illegal use of or addiction to a controlled substance." Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Paine v. Ride-Away, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Patricia Crowe appealed a Superior Court order granting summary judgment to defendant Appalachian Stitching Company, LLC (Appalachian), on Crowe’s claim that Appalachian violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and RSA chapter 354-A by refusing to accommodate her sciatica. Crowe worked at Appalachian as an assembler, which required her to have the ability to bend, lift and turn freely. After a trip to the emergency room, Crowe returned to work and informed her supervisor she had been diagnosed with sciatica. Crowe requested the ability to sit until her pain subsided and she could resume standing. Appalachian requested a doctor’s note explaining her condition; she obliged with the emergency room discharge instructions that stated, “NO LIFTING, BENDING OR STOOPING FOR 1 WEEK.” After reviewing the discharge instructions, Appalachian sent Crowe home until she was released to work by her doctor. On June 1, 2017, after Crowe missed work for eight days without providing an update on her condition, Appalachian determined that she had voluntarily quit. The trial court granted summary judgment to Appalachian on the ground that Crowe had not established she was a “qualified individual” under the ADA or RSA chapter 354-A. On appeal, Crowe argued that she could have performed the essential functions of her job if Appalachian had not sent her home and, instead, continued to allow her to sit as requested. The New Hampshire Supreme Court found that an employer, did not need to provide futile or ineffective accommodations. "Once Crowe was on leave, Appalachian was entitled to rely on the doctor’s evaluation that Crowe was unable to return to work. ... although a request for leave can, in some circumstances, trigger an employer’s obligation to make reasonable accommodations under the ADA, Crowe’s doctor’s inquiry about the availability of FMLA was not such a request." Accordingly, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court correctly determined that Appalachian was entitled to summary judgment on Crowe’s ADA and RSA chapter 354-A claims. View "Crowe v. Appalachian Stitching Company, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Clifford Avery appealed a superior court order that dismissed his complaint for breach of contract against the Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Corrections (DOC or department). Avery argue the trial court erred in concluding that his suit was barred by sovereign immunity and, alternatively, that he lacked standing. Avery was an inmate at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men (NHSP) who sued the DOC as part of a federal, class-action, 42 U.S.C. 1983 lawsuit, and the federal district court found that conditions at the NHSP subjected inmates to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The lawsuit resulted in a consent decree requiring the DOC to provide certain services to inmates confined at the NHSP, regularly inspect prison conditions, and ensure that NHSP practices, including those related to food service, medical care, mental health care, sanitation, and maintenance, comported with specified standards. The consent decree was modified to resolve issues raised by Avery and the class of original plaintiffs in motions for contempt that alleged the DOC was violating the terms of the original decree. In his complaint here, Avery made numerous allegations that conditions at the NHSP violated the terms of the settlement agreement. After the case was submitted, the New Hampshire Supreme Court directed the parties to provide supplemental briefing on the issue of sovereign immunity and sought amicus briefing. The Supreme Court determined RSA 491:8 (as amended July 2020) waived the State's sovereign immunity for Avery's suit for breach of the settlement agreement. Furthermore, Avery had standing to pursue his action. The trial court therefore erred in dismissing Avery's complaint on these grounds; the matter was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Avery v. Commissioner, New Hampshire Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Amy Burnap appealed a superior court order granting summary judgment to the Somersworth School District (District) on her claim of employment discrimination based upon her sexual orientation. The District hired the plaintiff as the Dean of Students at Somersworth High School for a one-year period beginning in July 2015. It was undisputed plaintiff “is a member of a protected class of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender individuals.” In January 2016, several instances of purported misconduct involving plaintiff came to light, setting in motion a sequence of events that culminated in her termination. She argued to the New Hampshire Supreme Court that the trial court erred because there were disputed material facts that could allow a jury to determine that the District’s stated reason for firing her, sexual harassment, was a pretext for unlawful sexual orientation discrimination because: (1) her colleagues’ alleged discriminatory animus infected the District’s decision to fire her; and (2) a preliminary investigation conducted prior to the District’s decision was a “sham.” The Supreme Court affirmed because there were insufficient facts in the record from which a jury could find, under either argument, that the District fired the plaintiff because of her sexual orientation and used sexual harassment as a pretext. View "Burnap v. Somersworth School District" on Justia Law

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Defendants were all arrested and convicted of violating a Laconia Ordinance prohibiting nudity in public places. They jointly moved to dismiss the charges against them, arguing the ordinance violated the guarantee of equal protection and their right to free speech under the State and Federal Constitutions. They further contended that the City of Laconia lacked the authority to enact the ordinance and that the ordinance was preempted by RSA 645:1 (2016). Finally, defendants maintained that the ordinance violated RSA chapter 354-A. Following a hearing, the court denied the defendants’ motion, and subsequently found them guilty of violating the ordinance. The New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that the ordinance merely prohibited those who access public places from doing so in the nude, and made a permissible distinction between the areas of the body that must be covered by each gender. Accordingly, their convictions were affirmed. View "New Hampshire v. Lilley" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Kyle Guillemette challenged a determination by the Administrative Appeals Unit (AAU) of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that the notice requirements set forth in RSA 171-A:8, III (2014) and New Hampshire Administrative Rules, He-M 310.07 did not apply when Monadnock Worksource notified Monadnock Developmental Services of its intent to discontinue providing services to petitioner because that act did not constitute a “termination” of services within the meaning of the applicable rules. Petitioner received developmental disability services funded by the developmental disability Medicaid waiver program. MDS was the “area agency,” which coordinated and developed petitioner’s individual service plan. Worksource provides services to disabled individuals pursuant to a “Master Agreement” with MDS. Worksource began providing day services to the petitioner in August 2012. On March 31, 2017, Worksource notified MDS, in writing, that Worksource was terminating services to petitioner “as of midnight on April 30.” The letter to MDS stated that “[t]he Board of Directors and administration of . . . Worksource feel this action is in the best interest of [the petitioner] and of [Worksource].” Petitioner’s mother, who served as his guardian, was informed by MDS of Worksource’s decision on April 3. The mother asked for reconsideration, but the Board declined, writing that because the mother “repeatedly and recently expressed such deep dissatisfaction with our services to your son, the Board and I feel that you and [petitioner] would be better served by another agency . . . .” Thereafter, petitioner filed a complaint with the Office of Client and Legal Services alleging that his services had been terminated improperly and requesting that they remain in place pending the outcome of the investigation of his complaint. Because the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that the AAU’s ruling was not erroneous, it affirmed. View "Petition of Kyle Guillemette" on Justia Law

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Farmington School District appealed a Board of Education (state board) decision reversing the decision of the Farmington School Board (local board) not to renew the employment contract of Demetria McKaig, a guidance counselor at Farmington High School. In November 2012, a student (Student A) and her boyfriend told McKaig and another guidance counselor that Student A was pregnant and that she wanted to terminate her pregnancy. Student A was fifteen years old at the time. McKaig suggested that Student A tell her mother about the pregnancy, but Student A refused. The principal expressed his view that the school should inform Student A’s mother about the pregnancy. McKaig disagreed, asserting that Student A had a right to keep the pregnancy confidential. McKaig spoke with Attorney Barbara Keshen of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union about Student A’s situation. Keshen’s opinion was that the judicial bypass law protected the confidentiality of Student A’s pregnancy and the fact that she was contemplating an abortion. McKaig relayed this opinion to Student A, and Student A made an appointment with a health center and another attorney to assist her with the judicial bypass proceedings. Meanwhile, the principal instructed the school nurse to meet with Student A to tell her that the school would inform her mother about her pregnancy. McKaig told the principal about her conversation with Keshen and urged him to contact Keshen to discuss Student A’s rights. The principal did not contact Keshen; however, Keshen contacted him. He told Keshen that the parental notification and judicial bypass laws did not prevent him from telling Student A’s mother about the pregnancy. Keshen instituted a petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the principal to prevent him from contacting Student A’s mother. McKaig was named as the petitioner “ON BEHALF OF [Student A]”; she was not named in her individual capacity. The TRO was ultimately granted. Months later, McKaig received a notice of nonrenewal from the superintendent; in the written statement of the reasons for non-renewal, the superintendent listed three reasons: insubordination, breach of student confidentiality, and neglect of duties. After the hearing, the local board upheld McKaig’s nonrenewal on those grounds. McKaig appealed to the state board, which found, pursuant that the local board’s decision was “clearly erroneous.” The state board reversed the local board’s decision to uphold McKaig’s nonrenewal, but it did not order McKaig’s reinstatement or any other remedy. McKaig cross-appealed the state board’s decision and argued that she was entitled to reinstatement with back pay and benefits. The Supreme Court affirmed the state board’s reversal of the local board’s decision, and ordered that McKaig be reinstated to her former job. The case was remanded to the state board for further proceedings to determine whether she was entitled to additional remedies. View "Appeal of Farmington School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Nichole Wilkins and Beverly Mulcahey sued their former employer, Fred Fuller Oil Company, Inc. (Fuller Oil), for sexual harassment and retaliation. Plaintiffs also sued Frederick J. Fuller, an employee of Fuller Oil, individually Prior to trial, defendant sought to prohibit plaintiffs from asserting claims against him under RSA chapter 354-A in his individual capacity. The district court thereafter informed the parties that it would not allow plaintiffs to assert such claims. Subsequently, Fuller Oil filed for bankruptcy protection and, therefore, the case against Fuller Oil was stayed; the case was reopened as to claims against defendant. Because the questions of whether an employee could recover damages from another employee for aiding and abetting sexual harassment or for retaliation under RSA chapter 354-A concerned unresolved issues of New Hampshire law, the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire certified two questions of New Hampshire law to the New Hampshire Supreme Court: (1) whether sections 354-A:2 and 354-A:7 of the New Hampshire Revised Statutes imposed individual employee liability for aiding and abetting discrimination in the workplace; and (2) whether section 354-A:19 of the New Hampshire Revised Statutes imposed individual employee liability for retaliation in the workplace. The New Hampshire Supreme Court answered both questions in the affirmative. View "U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n v. Fred Fuller Oil Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff David Eldridge was a resident and condominium owner at the Whip-Poor-Will Condominium Complex in Hudson. The condominium complex was governed by two different entities: the Condominium Owners' Association (COA) and the Rolling Green at Whip-Poor-Will Townhouse Owners' Association (TOA). Each association had separate and distinct legal obligations as set forth in the Condominium Declaration. Plaintiff has several disabling impairments that impact his mobility. When a walkway had not been repaired as he requested, plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination against the COA with the New Hampshire Human Rights Commission (HRC). Shortly thereafter, the COA repaired the plaintiff's walkway. The HRC, which continued to investigate the matter despite the repair, determined that there was probable cause to support a finding of discrimination and notified the COA that it had scheduled a public hearing on the complaint. The COA subsequently removed the case to superior court and filed a motion to dismiss on numerous grounds. As relevant to this appeal, the COA argued that plaintiff's discrimination complaint should be dismissed because the HRC had not commenced proceedings within twenty-four months after the filing of the charge of discrimination, as required by statute. The Superior Court denied the COA's motion to dismiss, concluding that the twenty-four month limit specified in the statute was not jurisdictional. The COA then filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that: (1) the case was moot because the walkway had been repaired; (2) the COA was not an entity covered by the Human Rights Act; (3) the plaintiff's claim was time-barred; (4) there was no dispute that the COA had accommodated the plaintiff; and (5) the COA had no legal obligation or authority to replace the walkway because it was located in a Townhouse Limited Common Area. The Superior Court (Temple, J.) granted the COA's motion for summary judgment on the ground that, under the plain language of the Declaration, the COA lacked authority over plaintiff's walkway and, as such, plaintiff had pursued the wrong party in seeking an accommodation. Plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration in which he asserted, for the first time, that because the COA had arranged for the walkway to be repaired, it had authority to repair the walkway. The court denied plaintiff's motion, reaffirming its earlier determination that the TOA, not the COA, had sole control over the walkway, and refusing to consider both plaintiff's theory regarding the COA's "assumed" authority over the walkway and any "new evidence" in support thereof. This appeal and cross-appeal followed. The Supreme Court concluded that plaintiff's complaint was untimely under RSA 354-A:21, III, and as such, affirmed dismissal of his case. View "Eldridge v. Rolling Green at Whip-Poor-Will Condo. Owners Ass'n" on Justia Law

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In consolidated cases, petitioner Gregory DuPont, appealed: (1) a circuit court order affirming the revocation by the respondent City of Nashua (City), through its chief of police, of his license to carry a loaded pistol or revolver; and (2) a Superior Court order denying his motion for preliminary injunctive relief in a proceeding brought against respondents Peter McDonough, Sean Haggerty, Christopher Casko, and John Barthelmes, challenging the denial of his request for an armed security guard license. In 1998, the petitioner was convicted in Massachusetts of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of liquor, a misdemeanor that carried a potential maximum prison sentence of two and a half years. Petitioner’s 1998 conviction rendered him ineligible, under Massachusetts law, to possess or carry a firearm, at least as of the 1998 amendments to the Massachusetts firearms laws. In 2005, upon the petitioner’s petition for review, the Massachusetts Firearm Licensing Review Board (FLRB) found that the petitioner was “a suitable person to possess a license to carry firearms, and his right to possess a firearm therefore is fully restored in the Commonwealth.” In 2007, the City’s chief of police issued the petitioner a license to carry a pistol or revolver, and that license was renewed in 2012. In 2009, the New Hampshire Department of Safety (DOS) issued the petitioner an armed security guard license. Sometime prior to June 29, 2010, Sergeant Lobrano of DOS became aware of the 1998 conviction and determined that it disqualified the petitioner, under federal law, from possessing firearms. Accordingly, Lobrano notified the petitioner that he was revoking the petitioner’s armed security guard license. On the same day, Lobrano issued the petitioner an unarmed security guard license. The petitioner appealed Lobrano’s decision to a hearings examiner, who upheld it. In 2011, while the parties were awaiting decision on their cross-motions for summary judgment, DOS’s attorney, respondent Casko, offered the petitioner a settlement. The petitioner agreed to the terms of the offer and the case was non-suited. In February or March 2013, petitioner applied to the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for a Curios and Relics License. The Nashua Police Department conducted a background check on the petitioner in 2013 and, in doing so, learned of the 1998 conviction (why the City had not discovered the 1998 conviction previously, despite having conducted at least two prior background checks on the petitioner, was not explained in the record). Nashua Police determined that the 1998 conviction disqualified the petitioner from both the federal license for which he had applied and his state license to carry, and advised that the ATF deny petitioner his federal Curio and Relics license, and that his state license to carry be revoked. Petitioner appealed the revocation to the circuit court, and, following that court’s affirmance of the DOS' decision, he appealed to the Supreme Court court. On appeal, petitioner argued that the trial courts erred in: (1) upholding the revocation of his license to carry; (2) upholding the DOS’s decision to rescind the 2011 settlement; (3) failing to find that the City was bound by the 2011 settlement; (4) misinterpreting 18 U.S.C. sections 921(a)(20) et seq.; (5) disregarding the findings and conclusions of the FLRB’s decision restoring his right to possess firearms; and (6) failing to “give full faith and credit to the provisions of the public acts, records and judicial proceedings in Massachusetts.” The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that its interpretation of section 921(a) better fulfilled Congress’s purpose of “defer[ring] to a State’s dispensation relieving an offender from disabling effects of a conviction.” Here, Massachusetts acted clearly and directly to remove the restriction the petitioner’s 1998 conviction had placed upon his civil right to keep and bear arms. The Court held that Massachusetts restored the petitioner’s civil rights within the meaning of 921(a)(20). The Court reversed both trial courts’ decisions resting upon the contrary conclusion and remanded for further proceedings. View "DuPont v. Nashua Police Department" on Justia Law