Justia New Hampshire Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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The plaintiff, John Alexander Cucchi, owns a parcel of land south of Skatutakee Lake in Harrisville, New Hampshire. His property abuts the southern edge of Skatutakee Lake Road, which runs along the southern shore of the lake. A narrow strip of land, the disputed parcel, lies between the northern edge of the roadway and the lake. Both Cucchi and Pamela Worden, who owns adjacent land, claim ownership of this disputed parcel. Cucchi's claim traces back to a 1999 deed, while Worden's claim is based on a 2002 deed from the same original owner. In 2021, the Town of Harrisville conveyed most of its rights in the disputed parcel to Worden.The Superior Court granted summary judgment in favor of Worden and the Town of Harrisville, determining that Worden owned the disputed parcel and that Cucchi therefore lacked standing to challenge the Town’s release of its interest in the right-of-way to Worden. The court applied the presumption that landowners abutting public highways have fee ownership to the center of the road and concluded that the 1999 deed conveyed a fee interest only to the center of the traveled roadway.Upon appeal, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire reversed the lower court's decision in part, vacated in part, and remanded the case. The Supreme Court applied the whole-road presumption, which states that if a deed conveys to the side of a road, the effect is to convey the entire road if the grantor owns the land under the road and does not own the land on the other side. The court concluded that the 1999 deed did not reserve the fee underneath the right-of-way, and therefore, the whole-road presumption controls. The court determined that the 1999 deed conveyed the disputed parcel, and Cucchi now owns the underlying fee. The court remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. View "Cucchi v. Town of Harrisville" on Justia Law

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The case involves Mojalaki Holdings, LLC and GSSG New Hampshire, LLC (the plaintiffs) who appealed a decision by the City of Franklin Planning Board (the Board) that denied their site plan application to install a solar panel array on a piece of land owned by Mojalaki. The proposed solar panel array required the installation of new utility poles and the removal of mature trees to ensure sufficient sunlight. The land, which was mostly open space and was once a golf course, did not have any specific ordinance language addressing solar panel arrays. The Board, after multiple hearings and a site visit, denied the application based on concerns raised by neighbors about the project's potential impact on the scenery, property values, and previous negative experiences with other solar projects in the city.The Board's decision was upheld by the Superior Court, which agreed with the Board's first and third reasons for denial, namely that the installation of new utility poles would create an industrial look out of place in the neighborhood, and that cutting down mature trees contradicted the purpose provisions. However, the Superior Court did not uphold the Board's second basis, that the solar panel array endangered or adversely impacted the residents, due to lack of supporting facts.The Supreme Court of New Hampshire reversed the lower court's decision, ruling that the Board could not rely solely on the purpose provisions to deny the application. The court found that the purpose provisions lacked sufficient specificity for site plan review and left the proposed project to be judged by the subjective views of the Board through ad hoc decision making. The court granted the plaintiffs a builder's remedy, allowing them to proceed with their development provided they comply with all other applicable regulations. View "Mojalaki Holdings v. City of Franklin" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, Newfound Serenity, LLC, sought to develop a seasonal recreational vehicle park and applied for site plan approval from the Town of Hebron's Planning Board. The Planning Board denied the application, citing seven reasons. Newfound Serenity appealed this decision to both the Housing Appeals Board (HAB) and the Town’s Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA). The HAB dismissed the appeal as untimely, while the ZBA overturned four of the Planning Board's reasons for denial, upheld one, and stated it lacked authority to address the remaining two. Newfound Serenity then filed a complaint in superior court, seeking review of both the Planning Board and ZBA decisions. The Superior Court dismissed the complaint in its entirety, based on the HAB's initial dismissal.The Superior Court agreed with the Town's argument that Newfound Serenity had effectively bifurcated its initial appeal, with the ZBA reviewing zoning ordinance-related reasons for denial and the HAB reviewing reasons outside the ZBA's jurisdiction. The Town argued that since the HAB dismissed the plaintiff’s appeal as untimely, and the plaintiff did not appeal the dismissal, the Planning Board’s decision on those issues became final. Therefore, even if the superior court were to reverse the ZBA’s decision, such a reversal would be moot because the Planning Board’s denial based on the two other reasons would remain effective. The Town also argued that because the plaintiff appealed the Planning Board decision in part to the HAB, the plaintiff waived its right to bring an action in superior court.The Supreme Court of New Hampshire reversed the Superior Court's decision, concluding that the dismissal of the complaint was inconsistent with the statutes governing appeals from planning board decisions. The court found that the plaintiff's initial appeal to the HAB was not late, but premature, as the ZBA had not yet resolved the issues. The court held that the dismissal of a premature appeal by the HAB while the ZBA appeal was pending did not foreclose the plaintiff from pursuing its complaint in superior court. View "Newfound Serenity, LLC v. Town of Hebron" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a dispute between the Commerce Park Condominium Association (Association) and Little Deer Valley, LLC (declarant), concerning the conversion of convertible land into a new structure, Building C, within the condominium. The declarant had recorded a declaration of condominium in 2005, reserving the right to create and build Building C on convertible land within five years. In 2010, shortly before the five-year deadline, the declarant recorded an amendment to the declaration and a new site plan, asserting that this action converted the convertible land. However, the Association contended that the amendment merely extended the declarant's right to convert for another five years, but did not actually convert the land.The Superior Court ruled in favor of the Association, holding that the Condominium Act required the declarant to physically construct Building C for conversion to occur. The court reasoned that since the declarant did not engage in any substantial construction of Building C before the extended deadline of May 9, 2015, its right to do so expired at that time. The court also concluded that the declarant's attempt to begin construction well after the May 9, 2015 deadline would be contrary to the Condominium Act's purpose to protect buyers and establish reasonable expectations among the parties.On appeal, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire reversed the lower court's decision. The court held that to convert convertible land, the Condominium Act required the declarant to file "appropriate instruments" within the five- to ten-year statutory deadline but did not require the declarant to physically construct Building C. The court also concluded that the declarant properly converted the convertible land when it filed the amended declaration and new site plan in 2010. Therefore, the declarant retained its statutory right to build Building C upon conversion. View "Commerce Park Condo. Ass'n v. Little Deer Valley, LLC" on Justia Law

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In this case, the plaintiff, Candice K. Harvey, challenged the decision of the Superior Court affirming the Town of Barrington Planning Board's approval of a subdivision on a lot adjacent to her property. The lot was previously subdivided into two lots, one owned by the plaintiff and the other retained by the owners, David and Glenda Henderson. The Hendersons sought a variance to subdivide their lot into two residential lots and gain access via an easement over the plaintiff's lot. The plaintiff protested that the easement was initially meant for accessing only one lot, not two. The Superior Court affirmed the Planning Board's decision, validating the Zoning Board of Adjustment's authority to approve variances and amend subdivision plans under New Hampshire law.The Supreme Court of New Hampshire reversed the decision of the Superior Court and remanded with instructions to vacate the Planning Board's approval of the subdivision application. The Court held that the easement, as specified in the plaintiff's deed and the 2006 plan, is to be used for a single lot and one buildable location only. Therefore, the Planning Board was precluded from approving the new plan absent legal access to the back lot consistent with RSA 674:41. The court disagreed with the trial court's conclusion that the Zoning Board of Adjustment or the Planning Board could modify the terms of the easement. The court also rejected arguments that the rule of reason should be applied to interpret the language of the easement, stating that the language was clear and unambiguous. View "Harvey v. Town of Barrington" on Justia Law

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Petitioners James Beal, Mary Beth Brady, Mark Brighton, Lenore Weiss Bronson, Nancy Brown, William R. Castle, Lawrence J. Cataldo, Ramona Charland, Lucinda Clarke, Fintan Connell, Marjorie P. Crean, Ilara Donarum, Joseph R. Famularo, Jr., Philippe Favet, Charlotte Gindele, Julia Gindele, Linda Griebsch, Catherine L. Harris, Roy W. Helsel, John E. Howard, Nancy B. Howard, Elizabeth Jefferson, Cate Jones, Robert McElwain, Mary Lou McElwain, Edward Rice, April Weeks, Michael Wierbonics, and Lili Wierbonics, appealed a Housing Appeals Board (HAB) order that reversed a decision of the Portsmouth Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA), which, in turn, had reversed certain approvals granted by the Portsmouth Planning Board (Planning Board) to respondent, Iron Horse Properties, LLC (Iron Horse). Iron Horse owned real property at 105 Bartlett Street in Portsmouth. In 2021, it requested various approvals from the Planning Board in connection with its proposed redevelopment of the site: three multi-family apartment buildings with a total of 152 dwelling units. Iron Horse sought a site review permit, lot line revision permit, conditional use permit (CUP) for shared parking, and a wetland CUP. The Planning Board granted the approvals, and the petitioners, describing themselves as “a group of abutters and other concerned citizens,” then filed an appeal with the ZBA. The ZBA granted the appeal, effectively reversing the Planning Board’s site plan and CUP approvals. Following denial of its motion for rehearing, Iron Horse then appealed the ZBA’s decision to the HAB. The HAB reversed the ZBA’s findings as to six of the petitioners’ claims and dismissed the remaining three claims. Petitioners took their appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, raising a number of issues that were consolidated under two overarching questions: (1) whether Iron Horse’s proposed project met the six criteria for a wetland CUP set forth in section 10.1017.50 of the Portsmouth Zoning Ordinance; and (2) whether Iron Horse’s permit requests were barred under the doctrine of Fisher v. City of Dover, 120 N.H. 187 (1980). Finding no reversible error in the HAB’s decision, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Appeal of Beal, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Todd and Margaret Maddock appealed a superior court order in favor of defendant Michael Higgins on plaintiffs’ petition to quiet title and their request for declaratory judgment, equitable relief, and a temporary injunction. The dispute arose over clearing of part of the property, a driveway and parking area between the parties abutting properties. Plaintiffs argued the court erred by: (1) failing to find that monuments in the field controlled over bearings or distances in a deed or plan; (2) finding that plaintiffs did not establish title by adverse possession; (3) finding that plaintiffs did not meet their burden to establish a boundary by acquiescence; (4) dismissing plaintiffs’ trespass claim; and (5) finding that the testimony of one of defendant’s witnesses was credible. After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the trial court properly found that the field monuments did not control the boundaries established by the parties’ deeds, properly found that plaintiffs did not establish a boundary by acquiescence, properly granted plaintiffs a prescriptive easement over the limited adjacent area for the purposes of snow removal, and properly assessed the credibility of the witnesses. Furthermore, the Court concluded the trial court did not err by dismissing plaintiffs’ trespass claim but reversed, in part the trial court’s adverse possession decision as it pertained to plaintiffs’ claims concerning their driveway and parking area. View "Maddock, et al. v. Higgins" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire certified two questions of law for the New Hampshire Supreme Court's consideration. This case began in December 2021 when plaintiff Katherine Brady filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition. At the time of the petition, plaintiff resided with her husband and children in a single-family residence. The property was titled only in plaintiff’s name. On Schedule C of the petition, plaintiff claimed a homestead exemption under RSA 480:1 for $120,000. Subsequently, plaintiff amended her petition to claim an additional $120,000 homestead exemption on behalf of her non-debtor, non-owner spouse. The Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustee filed an objection to the second claimed homestead exemption. In March 2022, plaintiff converted her case to one under Chapter 13. Subsequently, plaintiff amended Schedule D of her petition to add a second secured claim for her spouse for $120,000 based upon her spouse’s claimed homestead exemption. Defendant Lawrence Sumski, Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Trustee, asserted the same homestead exemption objection as the predecessor Chapter 7 Trustee. Following a hearing, the Bankruptcy Court concluded that to maintain a homestead right pursuant to RSA 480:1, a person had to demonstrate both occupancy and ownership interests in the homestead property. Because plaintiff’s husband was not an owner of the property, the court concluded that he was not entitled to a homestead exemption under RSA 480:1, and plaintiff could neither assert a homestead exemption on behalf of her husband, nor claim that he possesses a lien that secures his interest in the property. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded RSA 480:1 included an ownership requirement that applied to all real property occupied as a homestead and a non-owning occupying spouse of another who held a homestead right, pursuant to the statute, did not hold a present, non-contingent homestead right of his or her own. With respect to the district court’s second question, the Supreme Court exercised its discretion and declined to answer because a response to that question was not “determinative of the cause then pending in the certifying court.” View "Brady v. Sumski" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs AZNH Revocable Trust (AZNH) and John and Susan Sullivan, trustees, appealed a superior court order denying their request for preliminary injunctive relief against defendant Spinnaker Cove Yacht Club Association, Inc. (the Association), and granting the Association’s motion to dismiss. Spinnaker Cove Yacht Club (Spinnaker Cove) is a condominium consisting of ninety-one units and common area. Appurtenant to each unit is the exclusive right to use a boat slip corresponding to that unit. The Association was an organization created to manage and control Spinnaker Cove. Plaintiffs requested the court to enjoin the Association “from expending assessment monies or incurring any debt to purchase land outside the Condominium.” They also sought declarations that the condominium instruments of Spinnaker Cove and New Hampshire law prohibited the Association from both “expending assessment monies or incurring any debt to purchase land outside the Condominium to add guest parking spaces” and “expanding the Condominium.” The court reasoned that “[b]ecause the Condominium Act allows the Association to purchase land, and the Declaration does not prohibit same,” the plaintiffs’ complaint “fails to state a claim as a matter of law.” The New Hampshire Supreme Court concurred with the trial court's conclusion and affirmed. View "AZNH Revocable Trust & a. v. Spinnaker Cove Yacht Club Association, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Jeffrey Raymond, as Trustee of J&R Realty Trust, appealed a superior court order affirming a decision of the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) for the Town of Plaistow denying the plaintiff’s variance request and upholding the zoning determination of the town’s Building Inspector (BI). Plaintiff argued the court erred in affirming the ZBA’s decision because: (1) the record supported plaintiff’s contention that its proposed use of the property falls within the definition of a Trade Business; and (2) the ZBA unlawfully considered prior zoning violations at other properties operated by plaintiff’s anticipated tenant when making its determinations. After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that, based upon the plain language of the town’s zoning ordinance, plaintiff’s proposed use of the property constituted a Trade Business. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court’s order upholding the ZBA’s decision denying plaintiff’s appeal of the BI’s zoning determination. View "Raymond v. Town of Plaistow" on Justia Law