Justia New Hampshire Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics
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Plaintiffs New England Backflow, Inc. (NEB) and Paul Whittemore, appealed a superior court order dismissing several of their claims against defendants the New Hampshire Office of the Fire Marshall (OFM) and Jeremy Cyr, in his official capacity as chief inspector of OFM, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Specifically, plaintiffs challenged the trial court’s dismissal of their declaratory judgment requests and their claims of unconstitutional taking, malicious prosecution, and abuse of process. Whittemore started NEB, which installed, repaired, tested, and replaced backflow prevention devices, also known as backflow preventers, for private and public entities. OFM was tipped off by a licensed plumber NEB might be plumbing without a license, which lead to this suit against NEB and Whittemore. Plaintiffs argued to the New Hampshire Supreme Court the trial court erred by: (1) concluding plaintiffs’ declaratory judgment requests were inconsistent with the applicable statutory language without holding an evidentiary hearing; (2) ruling plaintiffs’ request for declaratory judgment relating to a cease and desist order issued by OFM was moot; (3) concluding that Whittemore did not have a vested right to perform his professional work necessary to support plaintiffs’ takings claims; and (4) ruling that plaintiffs failed to state a claim for malicious prosecution and abuse of process. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s order because the declarations plaintiffs sought were inconsistent with the plain and ordinary meaning of the relevant statutory language, their request for the cease and desist declaration was moot, and plaintiffs’ remaining claims failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. View "New England Backflow, Inc. v Gagne" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Ron L. Beaulieu & Company appealed a superior court order affirming the New Hampshire Board of Accountancy. The Board suspended plaintiff’s license to do business in New Hampshire for three years and imposed a $5,000 fine after concluding plaintiff committed professional misconduct by failing to retain work papers and records for five years and by failing to properly conduct auditing services for Tri-County Community Action Program (TCCAP) from 2008-2011. Finding no reversible error in the superior court’s judgment, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Ron L. Beaulieu & Company v. New Hampshire Board of Accountancy" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Sandra Brown, DVM, appealed an October 2017 decision by the New Hampshire Board of Veterinary Medicine (Board) suspending her license to practice veterinary medicine for six months and further prohibiting her, following the six-month suspension and until December 31, 2021, from dispensing, possessing, or administering controlled substances (other than euthanasia solution) in her practice. On appeal, she argued the Board lacked subject matter jurisdiction to discipline her for violating the Controlled Drug Act because the Board was not one of the agencies statutorily authorized to enforce that act. She also argued that the Board lacked jurisdiction to subject her practice to post-hearing inspections. "Although we need not decide the full scope of the Board’s jurisdiction to discipline a veterinarian for the violation of 'all laws,'" the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the Board had subject matter jurisdiction to discipline petitioner for violating the Controlled Drug Act. Furthermore, the Court found documents in the certified record suggested that petitioner agreed, at the very least implicitly, to the inspections as part of a settlement agreement with the Board. Therefore, the Board had jurisdiction to subject her practice to post-hearing inspections. View "Appeal of Sandra Brown, DVM" on Justia Law

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Appellants N.C. and Alethea Young, Ph.D., appealed superior court orders denying Dr. Young’s motion to quash a subpoena for N.C.’s psychological records issued by appellee, the New Hampshire Board of Psychologists (Board), and dismissing N.C.’s petition for a declaratory judgment to prevent the Board from obtaining the records. N.C. has been a patient of Young for many years, attending at least two therapy sessions per week since the age of two. In August 2013, when N.C. was still a minor, she informed Young that her father, S.C., had physically and emotionally abused her. According to Young, throughout her treatment of N.C., she witnessed what she described as S.C.’s aggressive and humiliating treatment of his daughter, both in public as well as in therapy sessions. In September, S.C. filed a written complaint against Young with the Board. The complaint alleged that Young had breached her professional obligations by: (1) becoming personally over-involved with N.C., thus sacrificing her objectivity; (2) providing counseling to both S.C. and his daughter, thus creating an insurmountable conflict of interest; (3) violating RSA 169-C:29 (2014) by failing to timely report suspected abuse of a child to DCYF; (4) violating RSA 633:1, I-a (2007) and 18 U.S.C. § 1201(a) (2012) by detaining and concealing N.C., who was a minor at the time, from S.C. when she drove N.C. to Vermont without S.C.’s knowledge or consent; and (5) failing to respect S.C.’s wishes that she no longer treat his daughter. On appeal, appellants argued that the trial court erred in enforcing the subpoena because the Board failed to establish that it had just cause to issue the subpoena. Appellants also contended that, even if just cause existed to issue the subpoena, once they objected, the subpoena could not be enforced by the court because the Board failed to sustain what, in their view, was the additional burden necessary to pierce the patient’s privilege by showing that there was a reasonable probability the records were relevant and material and that the Board had an essential need for them. Furthermore, appellants argued that, even if the Board met the burden necessary to pierce the privilege, the court erred in not conducting an in camera review of the records before ordering compliance with the subpoena in order to limit the scope of disclosure. After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed with appellants that the statute required a court order to obtain a patient’s records when there was an objection to compliance with a subpoena based upon a claim of privilege. However, the Court concluded that the trial court did not err in finding that, under the circumstances of this case, the privilege must yield to the Board’s proper exercise of its regulatory responsibilities with regard to its licensee, Dr. Young. View "N.C. v. New Hampshire Board of Psychologists" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-client James Yager appealed a superior court order granting summary judgment to defendant-attorney K. William Clauson on the client’s legal malpractice claim and dismissing that claim as to defendant-law firm Clauson, Atwood & Spaneas. The client’s legal malpractice claim stems from the defendants’ representation of him in two timber trespass actions. In the first action, summary judgment was granted to Mighty Oaks, in part, because the client failed to prove that Mighty Oaks was the entity that cut the timber. In the second action, summary judgment was granted to D.H. Hardwick & Sons, Inc. because the action had been filed more than three years after the timber cutting had ceased and, thus, was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The client filed the instant malpractice action against the defendants alleging that the applicable standard of care was breached because the Hardwick action was not timely filed. In this case, the trial court concluded that a legal expert was necessary for the plaintiff to prove “what result should have occurred” had the Hardwick action been timely filed. The client argues that this was error because he could have used the “trial-within-a-trial” method to prove this. After review, the Supreme Court held that, to the extent that the trial court determined that the trial-within-a-trial method was unavailable to the client, as a matter of law, the trial court erred. The Court found no error with regard to dismissal of claims against the defendant law firm. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Yager v. Clauson" on Justia Law

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Respondent Timothy O’Meara appealed a superior court order granting summary judgment against him and his law firm, O’Meara Newborn, PLLC, in an action brought by petitioners James and Anita Conant for the equitable recovery of fees paid to O’Meara. Anita Conant was injured in an automobile accident. James Conant retained O’Meara to represent the Conants in a personal injury suit arising out of the accident. He executed a contingent fee agreement providing, in part, “that O’Meara would be paid 33.33% of the gross amount recovered.” Despite knowing that he did not have authority to settle for policy limits, O’Meara informed opposing counsel that he believed the suit was “a policy limits case” and had been instructed “to proceed to trial” if the policy limits were not paid. After expressing concern over O’Meara’s unauthorized demand to settle, James Conant suggested that O’Meara reduce his fee. The parties discussed what O’Meara’s fee should be if the case settled for the policy limits: O’Meara offered to reduce his potential fee from $3.67 million to $3.17 million, which angered James Conant. O'Meara “told the Conants that if they terminated his services, he would sue them for his one-third contingency fee and ‘would win.’” Eventually the parties modified the original fee agreement, initialing handwritten changes indicating that O’Meara’s fee was “to be negotiated.” The dispute over fees continued, and on the day of a scheduled mediation in federal court in Pennsylvania, O’Meara informed the Conants at the courthouse “that he would not proceed with the mediation unless he received at least a $2 million fee.” James Conant felt he had no choice but to sign a memorandum agreeing to that fee. O’Meara negotiated an $11.5 million settlement subject to certain contingencies. After the mediation, the Conants dismissed O’Meara and the case settled for $11.5 million. The Conants and O’Meara agreed that the Conants would pay O’Meara an undisputed fee of $750,000, place $1,250,000 in escrow, and arbitrate the issue of how this amount should be divided.” An arbitration panel awarded O’Meara $837,000 of the escrow. Counsel for the Conants filed a grievance with the Attorney Discipline Office (ADO) alleging ethical violations by O’Meara. The ensuing disciplinary proceeding culminated with an order disbarring him. In appealing the superior court's order disgorging O'Meara of the $837,000 in fees he received at the end of arbitration, O’Meara argued that the trial court erred in: (1) permitting petitioners to relitigate matters determined in the prior arbitration; (2) failing to find the petitioners’ action barred by the statute of limitations; and (3) ordering fee forfeiture. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part: "we cannot say that the trial court’s order to disgorge the entire $837,000 award, as opposed to some lesser amount, constitutes an unsustainable exercise of discretion. [. . .] the fraud on the tribunal doctrine does not apply to the Conants’ claim for forfeiture of the $750,000 they paid O’Meara prior to arbitration. [. . .] the arbitrators 'were only tasked with considering whether O’Meara was entitled to a disputed portion of fees.' We fail to see how fraud on a tribunal can justify avoiding the time-bar of a claim not before that tribunal." The Court reversed the trial court’s award of the $750,000 paid prior to arbitration. The Court affirmed in all other respects. View "Conant v. O'Meara" on Justia Law

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In 2008, defendants K. William Clauson and the law firm of Clauson, Atwood & Spaneas, represented plaintiff James Yager in an action against D.H. Hardwick & Sons, Inc. (Hardwick), which alleged that Hardwick was the party who "trespassed on Plaintiff's land and cut timber belonging to Plaintiff." The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Hardwick because the action was filed more than three years after the timber cutting ceased and, therefore, was barred by the statute of limitations. The trial court also concluded that plaintiff had failed to demonstrate that the discovery rule applied to toll the statute of limitations. The trial court denied plaintiff's motion for reconsideration, and the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's decision. Plaintiff subsequently filed a malpractice action against defendants, alleging that they "breached the duty of care owed to [plaintiff] by failing to file the D.H. Hardwick action within the timeframe allowed by the applicable statute of limitations, and by otherwise failing to represent [plaintiff's] interests with reasonable professional care, skill, and knowledge." Defendants moved to dismiss the case, alleging that plaintiff: (1) failed to provide requested discovery information; and (2) failed to disclose the experts required to prove his case. The trial court granted the defendants' motion. Plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration, arguing that expert testimony was not required to prove legal malpractice where defendants failed to file a claim within the applicable statute of limitations. The trial court denied the motion, and this appeal followed. In granting the defendants' motion to dismiss, the trial court did not examine the specific facts of the case to determine whether the nature of the case was such that expert testimony was required. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the trial court's dismissal order and remand for further proceedings. View "Yager v. Clauson" on Justia Law

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Respondent R. Eric Bloomfield, DVM, appealed a decision of the New Hampshire Board of Veterinary Medicine which reprimanded respondent based upon its findings that he failed to do a physical examination of a puppy prior to demonstrating a restraint technique, that his restraint of the puppy was excessive, and that he failed to respect the opinion of the puppy's owners. A couple took their five-month old puppy to respondent for a routine checkup. Respondent determined that the male puppy was "dominant" and proceeded to demonstrate a dominance-submission technique, which included picking the dog up by the scruff of the neck and pinching his snout. The dog responded by urinating on the examination table, then defecating, struggling briefly, then laid still. The dog was pronounced dead later that day. The couple filed a formal complaint against respondent regarding his treatment of their puppy. The Board found that respondent did not engage in misconduct, but that he failed to respect the couple's opinion to demonstrate the submission technique. On appeal, respondent argued that the evidence did not support the Board’s finding that he failed to do a physical examination of the puppy prior to demonstrating a restraint technique, and that his restraint of the puppy "was excessive, especially given the breed." He also argued that RSA 332-B:14, II(c) was "impermissibly vague," and, therefore, violates his procedural due process rights. Finally, he argued that the Board erred by not requiring expert testimony on the standard of care. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "In the Matter of R. Eric Bloomfield, DVM " on Justia Law

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Defendant, Suzynne D. Cumminngs and S.D. Cummings & Co., PC, appealed a Superior Court order awarding $44,403 to plaintiffs, Robert Audette and his company, H&S Construction Services, LLC (H&S), for breach of contract. Defendants provided various accounting and business services to Audette and his then-partner, Paul Fogarty, including helping them to start their construction business partnership, as well as preparing tax returns for both the business and Audette and Fogarty personally. In 2007, defendants helped Audette and Fogarty dissolve their partnership. One of the final acts defendants worked on for H&S was the placement of a mechanic's lien on a property on which H&S worked: the municipality halted construction on the project when H&S was approximately ninety-five percent complete. The lien placed on the property was for $44,403. Ultimately, plaintiffs’ 120-day statutory lien had not been timely secured or recorded, therefore it had lapsed. Plaintiffs brought suit against defendants in November 2009 for failing to secure the lien. The trial court found for plaintiffs and awarded damages in the amount of $44,403. Finding no error in the Superior Court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Audette & v. Cummings" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Dr. Kevin Boulard, D.M.D. appealed a New Hampshire Board of Dental Examiners (Board) finding that he committed professional misconduct and suspending indefinitely his “moderate sedation – unrestricted” permit. The Supreme Court concluded that because the Board was in the process of conducting other investigations of petitioner’s practice, without more, it was error for the Board to continue the suspension of petitioner's permit based on the other facts presented on the record. The Court vacated a portion of the Board's order and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Appeal of Dr. Kevin D. Boulard, D.M.D." on Justia Law