Justia New Hampshire Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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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

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Plaintiff James Conrad appealed a Superior Court order granting the defendants’ motion for a directed verdict on grounds that they were entitled to sovereign, official, and qualified immunity. Plaintiff sued both defendants, New Hampshire Department of Safety (NHDS) and New Hampshire State Trooper Lieutenant Mark Myrdek, for false imprisonment, and against Myrdek for a violation of his civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983 (2012), seeking damages for events that occurred on November 28, 2007. Plaintiff alleged defendants falsely imprisoned him and violated his civil rights when defendants tried to calm plaintiff down after he made disparaging remarks about his wife (who was leaving him), tried to resign his position with the Department, and threatened to commit suicide. The defendants cross-appealed, raising evidentiary issues. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court's order. View "Conrad v. New Hampshire Department of Safety" on Justia Law

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Respondent, the City of Concord (City) appealed a superior court decision granting summary judgment in favor of petitioner Northern New England Telephone Operations, LLC d/b/a FairPoint Communications - NNE (FairPoint), in its equal protection challenge to the City’s taxation of FairPoint’s use and occupation of public property, and striking the tax levied against FairPoint. In order to provide telecommunications services throughout the City, FairPoint maintained poles, wires, cables, and other equipment within the City’s public rights-of-way. For the 2000 to 2010 tax years, the City imposed a real estate tax upon FairPoint for its use and occupation of this public property. Prior to 2010, the City did not impose a right-of-way tax upon Comcast, which used the City’s rights-of-way to provide cable services pursuant to a franchise agreement. The City began imposing the tax upon Comcast in 2010 in response to a ruling by the New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) that, notwithstanding the franchise agreement, Comcast was subject to the tax. Prior to 2008, the City did not impose the same tax upon Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) because it was unaware that PSNH had used and occupied the rights-of-way. Similarly, the City did not tax certain other users of its rights-of-way for their use and occupation of public property during the relevant tax years because it was not aware of their usage. FairPoint brought an action challenging, in relevant part, the constitutionality of the City’s right-of-way tax assessments against it for the 2000 through 2010 tax years. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. In granting FairPoint’s motion, and denying the City’s motion, the trial court ruled, as an initial matter, that "intentionality" was not a required element of FairPoint’s equal protection claim. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that FairPoint’s equal protection claim was one of "selective enforcement," and not an equal protection challenge to the tax scheme itself. Thus, because the trial court applied an erroneous legal standard in ruling that the City selectively imposed the tax upon FairPoint, the Court vacated the trial court’s rulings and remanded for further proceedings. View "Northern New England Telephone Operations, LLC v. City of Concord" on Justia Law

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Respondent, the father of G.G., appealed a superior court order which, after de novo review, upheld a finding by the 10th Circuit Court – Portsmouth Family Division that the respondent had abused and neglected G.G. Respondent challenged the superior court’s denial of his request to cross-examine or subpoena G.G. after the court admitted her videotaped interview into evidence. The Supreme Court concluded that given the plain language of the pertinent statutes and the court’s inherent authority to control the proceedings before it, trial courts have the discretion in abuse and neglect proceedings to determine whether any witness, including the child, should be compelled to testify. The record was unclear as to whether the trial court adequately considered the competing interests of respondent and the child. The Supreme Court vacated the trial court's decision and remanded this case for further proceedings: "[w]hen the court is considering whether to compel G.G. to testify in this case, the court may wish to consider whether she testified at the respondent's criminal trial and, if so, whether her testimony in the criminal proceeding would suffice for the instant proceeding." View "In re G.G." on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire certified a question to the New Hampshire Supreme Court: Whether RSA 507-B:2 and RSA 507-B:5 were constitutional under Part I, Article 14 of the New Hampshire Constitution, to the extent they prevented recovery for Plaintiff's claim for civil battery and damages against the Town of Sanbornton under a theory of respondeat superior. This case arose from a municipal police officer's use of a stun gun during a field sobriety test. Plaintiff Dennis Huckins alleged that the police officer, defendant Mark McSweeney, used his stun gun on him "multiple times." McSweeney claimed he used it only once when plaintiff began to run away before completing the field sobriety test. Plaintiff sued McSweeney and his employer, defendant Town of Sanbornton for damages, alleging, among other claims, a battery claim against McSweeney for his use of the stun gun and a claim that the Town was liable for battery under the doctrine of respondeat superior. The defendants sought summary judgment on both claims. The court denied McSweeney’s motion because the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff, did not establish that McSweeney fired only once, and because "[n]o reasonable police officer could have believed that the encounter . . . justified firing the [stun gun] a second time." Upon careful consideration of the facts of this case and the implicated statutes, the New Hampshire Court answered the certified question in the affirmative. View "Huckins v. McSweeney" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Kenneth Lahm appealed a superior court order that granted summary judgment to defendants, Detective Michael Farrington and the Town of Tilton. Plaintiff sued defendants for negligence. Farrington interviewed an alleged victim who was recovering from severe burns and bruises at Concord Hospital, and who stated that she believed she had been sexually assaulted. The alleged victim claimed that, three days earlier, she had gone home with plaintiff after drinking approximately four beers at a bar. She claimed that, upon arriving at plaintiff's house, plaintiff gave her two drinks containing Red Bull, after which she "passed out" and did not remember anything until waking three days later in plaintiff's bed, without any clothes, and discovering severe burns and bruises on her body. Following plaintiff's arrest and the search of his house, an evidentiary probable cause hearing was held, at which a judge found probable cause that plaintiff had committed second-degree assault. Plaintiff hired private investigators, who interviewed, among other people, neighbors who recalled seeing the alleged victim outside plaintiff's house during the time she claimed to have been passed out. The investigators also interviewed a friend of plaintiff, a medical doctor who said that he spoke to the alleged victim by phone about her injuries, and that she told him they had been caused by her having accidentally fallen onto a wood stove. Plaintiff claimed that, once the prosecution received this and other "exculpatory information," which he provided to the court, it dropped the pending charge against him. Plaintiff sued Farrington and the Town, alleging that Farrington had conducted a negligent investigation prior to his arrest, and that the Town was vicariously liable. The defendants moved for summary judgment on the basis, among other grounds, that Farrington "did not have a legal duty to investigate beyond establishing probable cause before arresting and bringing a criminal charge against [Lahm]." Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that immunizing police officers from "extended liability" was an interest that outweighs plaintiff's claimed interest in requiring a "reasonable investigation beyond just finding probable cause" prior to arrest. Because Farrington owed no duty to plaintiff, he could not be found liable for negligence on these facts. Absent tortious conduct by Farrington, the Town could not be vicariously liable for his conduct. View "Lahm v. Farrington" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Justin Czyzewski appealed a Superior Court ruling that denied his request for a declaration that although he was convicted of attempted sexual assault, he was not required to register as a sex offender under New Hampshire law. Although the record did not contain the details of his conviction for attempted sexual assault, the trial court noted that the petitioner "engaged in conduct in an online chat room with an undercover police detective, whom [he] believed to be a 13-year old female." The petitioner lived in Pennsylvania but, as the trial court stated, "was required to register as a sex offender [there] because he would be required to register in New Hampshire." Upon review, the Supreme Court could not " subscribe to the petitioner's statutory interpretation," and affirmed the Superior Court's ruling. View "Czyzewski v. New Hampshire Department of Safety" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Osahenrumwen Ojo appealed a superior court order that granted Defendants Officer Joseph Lorenzo and the Manchester Police Department's motion to dismiss. Plaintiff was stopped while walking away from his brother's home to after an altercation at the home. Officer Lorenzo arrested Plaintiff after Plaintiff was identified from a photographic line up by a kidnapping victim. The State charged Plaintiff with criminal kidnapping. A grand jury later returned an indictment against him. After Plaintiff spent seventeen months in pretrial custody, the State nol prossed all charged against him because the complaining witness allegedly moved to Germany. Unrepresented by counsel, Plaintiff filed a civil lawsuit against defendants alleging, among other things, that defendants: (1) ignored their duties to fully, reasonably, and prudently conduct their investigation before placing him under arrest (and therefore lacked probable cause to arrest); and (2) employed unnecessarily suggestive, unreliable, and untrustworthy identification procedures. Finding probable cause existed at the time of Plaintiff's arrest, the superior court granted defendants' motion to dismiss. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that defendants did not have probable cause to arrest Plaintiff due to inconsistencies in the alleged victim's description and photographic identification and Plaintiff's actual appearance the day he was arrested. The Court affirmed the superior court with respect to all other issues raised on appeal. View "Ojo v. Lorenzo" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Susan Jeffery appealed a superior court order that granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant City of Nashua on her wrongful discharge and breach of contract claims. Plaintiff worked for the City since 1977 in the payroll department. She became the City's risk manager in 1998. n 2004, Plaintiff became concerned that her direct supervisor, Maureen Lemieux, did not understand the budgetary process because "she wanted to level fund the health line items" in the City’s 2005 fiscal year budget. Plaintiff raised her concerns with Lemieux "dozens of times," but Lemieux responded that "she was comfortable with her numbers." In April 2005, the City discovered that the health insurance line item was underfunded. Consequently, the Board of Aldermen convened an ad hoc health care budget committee to investigate the circumstances leading up to the shortfall. Plaintiff alleged that between her two interviews with the committee, she was summoned to a meeting with the mayor, at which he asked her whether she, as department manager, should be held responsible for the budget shortfall. Plaintiff refused to accept responsibility, explaining that she had tried to prevent the error by raising her concerns with Lemieux and others. Further, Plaintiff alleged that on a separate occasion, the mayor suggested that they "all share the blame," but she refused his suggestion. Subsequently, Plaintiff started receiving poor performance evaluations and later received disciplinary actions. She would later be demoted. Shortly after her demotion, Plaintiff took a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act; while still on leave, Plaintiff resigned her position, stating she wished to retire early. Three years after her resignation, Plaintiff sued the City alleging constructive discharge and breach of contract. Finding that Plaintiff's suit fell outside the statute of limitations, and that Plaintiff had no enforceable employment contract with the City, the Supreme Court affirmed summary judgment granted in favor of the City. View "Jeffery v. City of Nashua " on Justia Law

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Petitioner David Fischer appealed a superior court order on his motions for pretrial bail, claiming that the court delegated authority to Strafford County Community Corrections (SCCC), which is managed by the Respondent, Superintendent of the Strafford County House of Corrections, in violation of the separation of powers doctrine. The written order stated that bail was set at $50,000 cash "[t]o convert to PR if found accep[table] by SCCC – Whether Bail is Posted or Converted all conditions apply." A pretrial motion to amend bail was denied, stating from the bench "[the judge was] just not going to order [SCCC] to do something it is not inclined to do. I have the power, and I have the discretion to do that, but I'm not going to in this case. The bail remains as is." Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the bail orders at issue here reflected "a cooperative accommodation among" the judicial and executive branches and does not violate the separation of powers doctrine. View "Fischer v. Superintendent, Strafford County House of Corrections " on Justia Law