Articles Posted in Government & Administrative 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

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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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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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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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Plaintiff Dartmouth Corporation of Alpha Delta (Alpha Delta) appealed a Superior Court order affirming a Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) decision in favor of defendant Town of Hanover (Town). The ZBA determined that the use of Alpha Delta’s property at 9 East Wheelock Street (the property) violated the Town’s zoning ordinance. Alpha Delta has been a fraternity for students at Dartmouth College (College) since the 1840s. In 1931, the Town enacted its first zoning ordinance. At that time, Alpha Delta’s property was located in the “Educational District” in which an “[e]ducational use, or dormitory . . . incidental to and controlled by an educational institution” was permitted as of right. Between 1931 and the mid- 1970s, the property was located in various zoning districts where its use by Alpha Delta as a fraternity was allowed as of right. In 1976, the Town enacted its current zoning ordinance, under which the property was located within the “Institution” district. A student residence in the Institution district was allowed only by special exception. In 2015, the College notified Alpha Delta by letter that, due to the fraternity’s violation of the school’s standards of conduct, it had revoked recognition of the fraternity as a student organization. “Derecognition” revoked certain privileges, pertinent here was recognition as a ‘college approved’ residential facility; and use of College facilities or resources. The College notified Alpha Delta that it would be removed from the College’s rooming system under which student room rents are paid through the College, and would no longer be under the jurisdiction or protection of the College’s department of safety and security. Furthermore, the College notified the Town that Alpha Delta no longer had a relationship with Dartmouth College, and notified Alpha Delta that it was the College’s “understanding that under the Town zoning ordinance no more than three unrelated people will be allowed to reside on the property.” The Town’s zoning administrator subsequently notified Alpha Delta by letter that use of the property violated the zoning ordinance. Alpha Delta appealed, but finding none of its arguments availing, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Dartmouth Corp. of Alpha Delta v. Town of Hanover" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Kadle Properties Revocable Realty Trust (Trust), challenged the dismissal of the Trust’s appeal to the New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA), filed after respondent, the City of Keene (City), denied the Trust’s application for an educational use tax exemption. The Trust owned property in Keene that included an office building. A separate, for-profit corporation, Config Systems, Incorporated (Config Systems), rented a portion of the Trust’s office building, where it offered computer classes. The Trust did not own or operate Config Systems, but Daniel Kadle, in addition to serving as trustee for the Trust, was a beneficiary of the Trust and the sole shareholder of Config Systems. The Trust sought the exemption based upon Config Systems’s use of part of the property as a school. The Trust appealed the City’s denial of its request to the BTLA. During the BTLA hearing on the Trust’s appeal, the City moved to dismiss the appeal. The BTLA granted the City’s motion, reasoning that the property owner, the Trust, was not a school, and that Config Systems, the entity operating the school which the Trust claims qualified the property for an exemption, did not own the property. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Appeal of Kadle Properties Revocable Realty Trust" on Justia Law

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Defendants, the City of Dover (City) and its city council, school board, school board superintendent search committee, ethics commission, and city council ethics sub-committee, appealed a Superior Court order requiring them to disclose to plaintiff Jeffrey Clay, the written rubric forms completed by members of the superintendent search committee when evaluating applicants for the superintendent position. On appeal, defendants argued that the trial court erred when it determined that the completed rubrics were not exempt from disclosure under the Right-to-Know Law as “[r]ecords pertaining to internal personnel practices.” After review, the Supreme Court reversed: the completed rubric forms pertained to “internal personnel practices” and were exempt from disclosure under the Right-to-Know Law. View "Clay v. City of Dover" on Justia Law

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Petitioner-claimant Jason Malo appealed a Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) decision reducing the rate at which his indemnity benefits were paid from the temporary total disability rate to the diminished earning capacity rate. On appeal, he argued that the CAB erred by: (1) finding that his physical condition had improved since he sustained the original, compensable, work-related injury; (2) determining that the change in his physical condition affected his earning capacity; and (3) failing to make specific findings of fact and rulings of law sufficient to allow meaningful appellate review. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Appeal of Jason Malo" on Justia Law