Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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The Nashua School District (District) appealed an order of the New Hampshire Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB) finding that the District committed an unfair labor practice by refusing to bargain with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Council 93, Local 365, Nashua Custodial/Janitorial Staff (Union) concerning the District’s plan to subcontract custodial work at the expiration of the term of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the parties. “Reduced to its essence,” the issue before the New Hampshire Supreme Court in this case was whether its prior decisions in Appeal of City of Nashua Board of Education, 141 N.H. 768 (1997), and Appeal of Hillsboro-Deering School District, 144 N.H. 27 (1999), precluded a public employer from ever unilaterally determining to subcontract work that is performed by Union members under a CBA. The Union, in essence, argued that they did; the District argues that they did not. The Supreme Court agreed with the District, and reversed the Board’s contrary conclusion. View "Appeal of Nashua School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Daniel Barry appealed a jury verdict in favor of defendants the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (department) and William Fenniman, Jr., the director of the Division of Juvenile Justice Services during the relevant time period. Plaintiff worked as a youth counselor at the Sununu Youth Services Center (SYSC) until defendants terminated him, claiming that he had used excessive force against a youth resident and had failed to file a report regarding the incident. After the Personnel Appeals Board (PAB) reinstated him, plaintiff filed suit at issue here, alleging a claim for wrongful termination against the department, and a claim for interference with plaintiff’s right to freedom of expression under RSA chapter 98-E against the department and Fenniman in his official and individual capacities. On appeal, plaintiff argued the superior court erred when it: (1) declined to give collateral estoppel effect to the PAB’s findings that plaintiff had not used unreasonable or excessive force against the resident or violated SYSC policies; and (2) allowed defendants’ expert to testify regarding the reasonableness of plaintiff’s use of force. Defendants cross-appealed, arguing the superior court erred when it: (1) concluded that an employee protected by state personnel laws and a collective bargaining agreement could bring a claim for wrongful termination; and (2) declined to make factual findings to resolve the defendants’ motion to dismiss upon the ground of sovereign immunity. The New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s rulings with respect to the issues raised by plaintiff in his appeal. As a result, the Court did not address the issues raised in defendants’ cross-appeal. View "Barry v. New Hampshire Department of Health &Human Services" on Justia Law

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During a regularly-scheduled meeting, the SAU’s Board voted to go into a nonpublic session to discuss two topics: the superintendent’s evaluation, and “emergency functions.” While in nonpublic session, the Board voted to seal the minutes of the meeting. In June 2016, plaintiff David Taylor asked the executive assistant to the superintendent to send him the minutes of the May 12 nonpublic session by e-mail. She informed plaintiff that she could not provide him with those minutes because they were sealed. A month later, plaintiff e-mailed the executive assistant again, asking her to forward to him, by e-mail, a June 22 e-mail regarding the nonpublic session that had been sent to the Board. The executive assistant again denied plaintiff’s request, referring him to the SAU’s Right-to-Know procedure, requiring the public seeking electronic records to come to the SAU’s offices with a thumb drive in sealed, original packaging or to purchase a thumb drive from the SAU at its actual cost. In August, plaintiff filed a complaint in which he alleged the SAU had violated RSA chapter 91-A by voting in closed session to seal the minutes of the nonpublic session of the May 12 meeting and by refusing to e-mail the records he requested. He also challenged the SAU’s practice of charging 50 cents per page for hard copies of public records. Plaintiff sought: invalidation of the vote to seal the minutes of the nonpublic session; release of the sealed minutes; a declaration that the SAU’s thumb drive policy violated RSA chapter 91-A; an order requiring transmission of the requested records to him by e-mail; other injunctive relief; and litigation costs. After review, the trial court found the SAU’s policy for transmitting public records complied with RSA chapter 91-A. Because of the SAU’s decision to keep sealed only the portion of the nonpublic session with respect to emergency functions, the trial court also found that the plaintiff’s challenge of the SAU’s action was “moot in all but one respect,” specifically, the single redacted sentence of the superintendent’s evaluation. On this issue, the court ordered that the SAU provide it with an un-redacted copy of the public minutes for in camera review. The trial court also determined that petitioner’s lawsuit had been necessary to ensure the Board’s compliance with RSA 91-A:3, and, therefore, awarded him litigation costs. However, the trial court ruled that plaintiff had no standing to challenge the cost of paper copies, because there was no evidence that he had asked for, or paid for, such copies. The trial court also found that the Board did not violate RSA 91-A:3, III by producing two sets of minutes for the May 12 meeting, one containing the public portion and the other the sealed portion. Finally, the court declined to enter the injunctive relief sought by the plaintiff. Finding no reversible error in the trial court’s judgment, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Taylor v. School Administrative Unit #55" on Justia Law

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This case arose from an accident at a pond owned by the defendant, the Town of Chester, where Christopher Kurowski suffered injuries after being struck by a person using a rope swing attached to a tree on the shore. Plaintiff, Jay Kurowski, as father and next friend of his minor son, Christopher, appealed a superior court order dismissing his negligence and intentional tort claims against the Town, as barred by the recreational use immunity statutes. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the Town was entitled to immunity under RSA 212:34, and affirmed. View "Kurowski v. Town of Chester" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Dao Nguyen appealed a New Hampshire Board of Barbering, Cosmetology, and Esthetics (Board) decision, suspending her personal license as a manicurist and revoking the shop license for Nail Care. In 2013, Board inspector Beulah Green conducted a routine inspection of Nail Care, finding numerous violations of the Board Administrative Rules (Rules), including two foot spas that were not disinfected properly, no record of cleaning for two foot spas, five tables that were not sanitized, numerous implements that were either not sanitized and disinfected properly or not discarded or disposed of properly, multiple “credo” blades, and the use of nail drills that are not manufactured for use on the natural nail (improper nail drills). For these violations, Green imposed a fine of $4,158. In the next few years, Green conducted additional inspections, and again found multiple, repeat violations of the Rules. Noting the repeated violations and the “blatant disregard” that the petitioner demonstrated towards the Rules, the Board suspended petitioner’s personal license for five years, revoked her shop license for Nail Care, and ordered her to pay all outstanding fines owed to the Board within 90 days. The Board also ruled that, if the petitioner’s license is reinstated, it will be subject to a three-year probationary period. Finding the Board’s decision was supported by substantial, credible evidence, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the Board’s decision. View "Appeal of Dao Nguyen" on Justia Law

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Petitioner’s receipt of developmental services was voluntary, and accordingly he retained the right to “seek a change in [developmental] services or withdraw entirely from the [developmental] service delivery system.” Petitioner Wayne Sawyer had a developmental disability and history of mental illness. He received state-administered developmental and mental health services and lived at the Laconia Designated Receiving Facility (Laconia DRF), a state-operated facility. Prior to his move to Laconia DRF, petitioner requested that his area agency affiliation for developmental services be changed to respondent Lakes Region Community Services (LRCS), the area agency serving Laconia. LRCS denied his request. Petitioner appealed to the Administrative Appeals Unit (AAU) of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The AAU affirmed, finding that the petitioner failed to prove that his move to Laconia DRF constituted a change in legal residence. On appeal, the petitioner argues that, under RSA chapter 171-A and its implementing regulations, he had a right to change his area agency affiliation to LRCS. LRCS counters that, because the petitioner remains institutionalized and was not conditionally discharged, his move was involuntary and, therefore, he had no right to change area agency affiliation. The New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed with petitioner that he had a right to change his area agency affiliation. View "Petition of Wayne Sawyer" on Justia Law

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The State of New Hampshire moved to enforce administrative subpoenas served on defendants Actavis Pharma, Inc., Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Purdue Pharma L.P., and Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. The State was investigating defendants’ role in allegedly causing health care providers to prescribe opioids to treat chronic pain. Defendants resisted, arguing the Office of the Attorney General’s (OAG) engagement of outside counsel was unlawful. In addition, defendants moved for a protective order, seeking to “bar the Attorney General from engaging contingent fee counsel to: (a) participate in or assume responsibility for any aspect of the State’s investigation of alleged violations of the Consumer Protection Act . . . ; or (b) participate in or assume responsibility for any subsequent enforcement action pertaining to alleged CPA violations.” Defendants argued that the OAG’s fee agreements with the firm Cohen Milstein: (1) violated RSA 21-G:22 and :23 (2012) (amended 2016); (2) violated New Hampshire common law; (3) were ultra vires because the OAG did not comply with RSA 7:12 (2013) (amended 2016) or :6-f (Supp. 2016); (4) violated the doctrine of separation of powers; (5) violated the New Hampshire Rules of Professional Conduct; and (6) violated due process under the New Hampshire and United States Constitutions. The State replied that an objection to the Attorney General’s use of outside counsel was not appropriate justification for refusing to comply with lawful subpoenas, and that defendants lacked standing to raise that complaint. The trial court denied the State’s motion to enforce the subpoenas and granted the defendants’ motion for a protective order “to the extent that the OAG and Cohen Milstein’s contingency fee agreement is invalid.” The trial court determined that the defendants had demonstrated standing to bring their claims, that the fee agreement was void, and therefore denied the State’s motion to enforce the subpoenas on that basis. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded defendants lacked standing to challenge the outside counsel agreement. It reversed and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "New Hampshire v. Actavis Pharma, Inc." 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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Plaintiff segTEL, Inc. was a telecommunications company that owned and/or operated a fiber optic cable network throughout New Hampshire, including within the City of Nashua. It did not own any poles or conduits within the City, and did not have its own license from the City authorizing its occupation of the City’s rights of way. Instead, pursuant to pole attachment agreements with the utility providers, the plaintiff remitted a fee to the utility providers in exchange for the right to place its fiber optic cables on their poles and conduits. These pole attachment agreements did not require the plaintiff to pay property taxes assessed by the City. Having become aware of plaintiff’s use of the utility providers’ poles and conduits, the City in 2014 assessed plaintiff property taxes of $1,507.94 for its use of the City’s rights of way. Plaintiff applied for an abatement, which the City denied. Thereafter, plaintiff brought this action in superior court, seeking: (1) a declaratory judgment that the City was not entitled to impose the tax; and (2) to strike the City’s 2014 tax assessment. The trial court granted summary judgment to plaintiff, ruling that “[b]ecause [the plaintiff] has not entered into an agreement in which it consented to be taxed,” the City could not lawfully tax the plaintiff for its use and occupation of the City’s rights of way. The City appealed, and finding no reversible error in the trial court’s judgment, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Segtel, Inc. v. City of Nashua" 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