Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law

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Plaintiff Samuel Rogers appealed a superior court order dismissing his complaint against his son, Joseph Rogers, upon finding that the probate court and not the superior court, retained exclusive subject matter jurisdiction over his cause of action. Plaintiff’s wife died in March 2012 and the parties’ dispute arose after the disposition of her estate. The decedent’s will named defendant as the executor of the estate, which was comprised of, in pertinent part, two properties in Hollis, New Hampshire: plaintiff’s marital home and the decedent’s 50% ownership interest in 94.3 acres of undeveloped land on Rocky Point Road. In her will, the decedent devised one-third of the estate to plaintiff and the remaining two-thirds to defendant. The probate court appointed defendant as the executor of the estate in May 2012. At some point in 2015, plaintiff learned that the Town of Hollis had either offered to purchase or agreed to purchase Rocky Point for $2,500,000, but, for reasons not established by the record, the sale was never consummated. Thereafter, plaintiff discovered his son had commissioned an appraisal of Rocky Point in 2005 which estimated that the value of the property at that time was $1,950,000. These valuations suggested that following the parties’ exchange of property interests, defendant’s interest in Rocky Point would have been worth approximately $975,000. Based on these discoveries, plaintiffs sued his son in 2016 in superior court, alleging breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, negligence, and unjust enrichment. Defendant moved to dismiss, arguing his father's claims were barred by the statute of limitations, which was within six months of the probate court's issuance of the certificate of appointment in May 2012. Ruling that defendant mischaracterized plaintiff's claims, the superior court denied defendant's motion. Upon reconsideration, the trial court granted defendant's motion and dismissed plaintiff's superior court claims, finding they related the the estate and will, and any misrepresentation of Rocky Point took place during the administration of the estate. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the claims at issue here did not fall within the probate court's exclusive jurisdiction, reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Rogers v. Rogers" on Justia Law

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Defendant Lisa Jacobs appealed both a jury verdict and a permanent injunction issued by the trial court in favor of plaintiffs Lorraine and Peter MacDonald. Defendant seasonally resided in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire. According to plaintiffs, in 2012 they purchased a vacation home that abuts or was near defendant’s family’s property. Thereafter, defendant began letter-writing campaigns in which she falsely accused plaintiffs of, among other things, a variety of illegal activities. In 2016, plaintiffs sued defendant for defamation. Following a trial, the jury found that defendant’s statements were defamatory and that they were made with malice, thereby warranting the award of special damages. In addition, the trial court, finding defendant’s statements “vast and disturbing,” issued a permanent injunction prohibiting defendant from, inter alia, going within a five-mile radius of plaintiffs’ home in Fitzwilliam and from entering plaintiffs’ hometown in Sterling, Massachusetts. On appeal, defendant argued the trial court erred by: (1) denying a mistrial when plaintiffs’ counsel made a “golden rule” argument to the jury; (2) denying her motion for summary judgment because New Hampshire required proof of “actual damages” for defamation; (3) applying an incorrect standard to plaintiffs’ claim for enhanced compensatory damages; (4) determining that defendant’s speech was not of “public concern;” (5) admitting prejudicial other bad act evidence; and (6) “ordering [her] physical removal . . . from her family’s vacation property” in Fitzwilliam and “banishing” her from Sterling. The New Hampshire Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "MacDonald v. Jacobs" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Quentin White filed an action to quiet title against defendants Brigitte Auger (formerly Gaudreau) and Joanne Jackson (formerly Labadie). In the spring of 1968, White met Perley Swett, the “Taylor Pond Hermit,” and explained that he needed food. White and his family provided that food. White refused payment from Swett; this gesture started an enduring friendship. Over the years, White helped Swett deliver gifts of money or deeds of land to people in the community — mostly to local children. Auger was one of the local children who repeatedly benefited from Swett’s generosity; at one point, Swett told Auger that he would give her a horse and some land. Swett often attempted to pay White for, in Swett’s words, his "services." White always refused payment, feeling that it was his neighborly duty to help. At one point, Swett attempted to give White a deed for a large parcel of land. After a heated discussion, White tore up the deed. In 1972, Swett gave White the deed at issue in this appeal in exchange for White’s services. White accepted the deed but did not intend to record it. Swett died in 1973, and had appointed White as executor of his will, which included several bequests to White, including part of Swett's "home farm." The probate proceedings became contentious, and White resigned as executor. Prior to resignation, however, White recorded the 1972 deed and entered into a Stipulation with Swett’s estate and heirs, thereby relinquishing any of his claims under Swett’s will and in connection with any unrecorded deeds. In 2016, White attempted to sell the land in the 1972 deed; the sale fell through because the prospective buyer, having become aware of the references to Auger and Jackson in the 1972 deed, was concerned that White might not hold the title free and clear of Auger’s and Jackson’s interests. White then brought an action to quiet title against Auger and Jackson. Jackson defaulted; Auger contested the action and brought counterclaims against White. The trial court ruled in favor of Auger in the quiet title action, reasoning that the deed, properly interpreted, contemplated transferring ownership of the land to Auger in the event that White did not live on or build on the land within ten years. The trial court also ruled in favor of Auger on her declaratory judgment and specific performance counterclaims. This appeal followed. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's interpretation of the 1972 deed, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed quiet title in favor of Auger. View "White v. Auger" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs David and Katherine Dietz appealed a superior court order that upheld a zoning board of adjustment (ZBA) decision for defendant Town of Tuftonboro, which granted intervenor Sawyer Point Realty, LLC (collectively with Sawyer Point Realty Trust, its predecessor in interest, Sawyer Point), two equitable waivers related to two additions Sawyer Point constructed on its house in violation of the Town’s zoning ordinance requiring a fifty-foot setback from Lake Winnipesaukee. Sawyer Point’s house was located along the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee and within the Town’s Lakefront Residential Zoning District (District); the Dietzes owned the abutting property, also within the District. In 1999, Sawyer Point added a second floor addition over the eastern portion of the first floor of its house, aware that the existing structure was located within the setback, and that a second floor addition would also be within the setback. Prior to construction, Sawyer Point submitted a building permit application to the Town containing a rough sketch of the existing house, which also showed that the house was situated less than fifty feet from the lake. The Town’s building inspector granted the building permit, noting the addition would cause “no change in footprint.” In 2008-2009, Sawyer Point constructed a second addition to its house, again receiving permission from the Town to construct. In February 2014, Sawyer Point commissioned a survey which revealed, in regard to the 2008 Addition, more of the new structure was within the setback than had been represented to the ZBA. In December 2014, the Dietzes, after learning of this discrepancy, sought injunctive relief against Sawyer Point, claiming that Sawyer Point had built within the setback without obtaining the required approvals, and requesting that the court order the removal of the unlawful construction. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not err when it sustained the ZBA and declined to weigh the cumulative effect of building within the lakefront setback throughout the Town. Moreover, relying on the evidence before it, the trial court agreed with the ZBA that there was little or no public benefit to be gained by correcting the violations. Because the Dietzes have failed to show that this finding was unreasonable or unsupported by the evidence, the trial court's decision was upheld. View "Dietz v. Town of Tuftonboro" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Lakes Region Water Company, Inc. (Lakes Region), appealed a New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission (Commission) order requiring Lakes Region to refund a second base charge it had imposed on its customer, Robert Mykytiuk, and prohibiting it from “imposing such charges unless and until they are included in the company’s tariff.” Lakes Region learned that Mykytiuk had constructed an additional structure on his property. To supply the new structure with water, Mykytiuk tapped into his primary residence’s service connection. Shortly after learning of the new construction, Lakes Region sent Mykytiuk an application for new service for the additional structure and requested to inspect the water service connection. Despite concluding that the new structure required a separate service connection, Lakes Region chose not to install one at that time. Rather, Lakes Region began billing Mykytiuk for an additional “base charge,” which referred to the “[m]inimum charge per customer per quarter” scheduled in Lakes Region’s tariff. Mykytiuk complained to the Commission, asserting that he was not required to have a second service connection. The Commission treated the matter as a formal complaint and held a hearing on the merits. At the hearing, Mykytiuk argued that Lakes Region could not charge him a separate base charge or require him to install a separate meter for the additional structure because neither was provided for in Lakes Region’s tariff. Finding no reversible error in the Commission’s order, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Appeal of Lakes Region Water Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, the Grand Summit Hotel Condominium Unit Owners’ Association (Association), filed claims against defendant, L.B.O. Holding, Inc. d/b/a Attitash Mountain Resort (Attitash), arising from Attitash’s alleged failure to maintain a cooling tower at the Grand Summit Hotel and Conference Center (Condominium). Attitash moved to dismiss the Association’s claims, arguing that they were barred by a provision, which required arbitration of certain disputes, in a management agreement (the Agreement) between the parties. The trial court denied Attitash’s motion to dismiss, ruling that the Association’s claims fall outside of the scope of the provision. The trial court subsequently approved this interlocutory appeal. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Grand Summit Hotel Condominium Unit Owners' Association v. L.B.O. Holding, Inc.. d/b/a Attitash Mountain Resort" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Grand Summit Hotel Condominium Unit Owners’ Association (Association), filed claims against defendant L.B.O. Holding, Inc. d/b/a Attitash Mountain Resort (Attitash), arising from Attitash’s alleged failure to maintain a cooling tower at the Grand Summit Hotel and Conference Center (Condominium) in Bartlett. Attitash moved to dismiss the Association’s claims, arguing that they were barred by a provision, which required arbitration of certain disputes, in a management agreement between the parties. The trial court denied Attitash’s motion to dismiss, ruling that the Association’s claims fell outside of the scope of the provision. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Grand Summit Hotel Condominium Unit Owners' Association v. L.B.O. Holding, Inc.. d/b/a Attitash Mountain Resort" on Justia Law

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The parties appealed and cross-appealed superior court rulings regarding claims of defendants, the direct or beneficial owners of real property on Great Island, to deeded or prescriptive easements to traverse a footpath (the Circle Trail) over the Great Island lot owned by plaintiff Dwight Stowell, Jr. Great Island was on Lake Sunapee and lay partially in Newbury and partially in Sunapee. Stowell’s lot was primarily in Newbury, although a small portion of it is in Sunapee. Some of the defendants had Great Island lots in Newbury (the Newbury defendants), while others have Great Island lots in Sunapee (the Sunapee defendants). Because Great Island had no public roads, footpaths were used to get from one place to another on the island. The Circle Trail went around the perimeter of the island. In ruling on pre-trial cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial court decided that the Newbury defendants have deeded easements to use the Circle Trail as it crosses the Newbury portion of Stowell’s lot. The court rejected the assertion that those easements were extinguished because the purpose for which they were created (to provide access to steamboats) became impossible to achieve once the steamboat wharves were destroyed in a 1938 hurricane. Furthermore, the trial court ruled that: (1) only those Newbury defendants who testified at trial have prescriptive easements to use the Circle Trail over the Sunapee portion of Stowell’s lot; (2) only the single Sunapee defendant who testified at trial has a prescriptive easement to use the Circle Trail over both the Newbury and Sunapee portions of Stowell’s lot; and (3) Stowell has the unilateral right to relocate the Newbury defendants’ deeded easements from the front to the back of his property. Stowell appealed the ruling that the Newbury defendant had deeded easements to use the Circle Trail that crossed his lot; the defendants challenged the other rulings. After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s rulings regarding defendants’ prescriptive easements and Stowell’s right to relocate the deeded easements, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Stowell v. Andrews" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Rochester City Council appealed a superior court order affirming defendant City of Rochester Zoning Board of Adjustment’s grant of a variance to defendants Donald and Bonnie Toy. On appeal, the Council argued the trial court: (1) erred in affirming the ZBA’s decision to grant a variance to the Toys; and (2) unsustainably exercised its discretion in denying the plaintiff’s motions to expand the record. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Rochester City Council v. Rochester Zoning Board of Adjustment" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs owned approximately 0.3 acres on the shore of Lake Waukewan in New Hampton. Per the town’s zoning ordinance, the property was subject to a twenty-foot side yard setback and a thirty-five-foot front setback along the road. It was also subject to a fifty-foot setback along the lake shore pursuant to the Shoreland Water Quality Protection Act. The property was sloped and contained a house, a deck, and three plastic, movable sheds used to store various home and recreational items. Plaintiffs sought to replace the plastic sheds with a ten-by-sixteen-foot permanent shed, which they planned to construct on the western side of the property. The proposal would have placed the permanent shed within the twenty-foot side setback. Accordingly, plaintiffs sought a variance from the side setback requirement. They appealed when the Superior Court upheld the denial of their requested variance by the Town of New Hampton Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA). They argued the proposed shed would not alter the essential character of the neighborhood because several other properties in the neighborhood had outbuildings within the setbacks. They maintained the existence of these outbuildings on neighboring properties, along with the lack of objection from the western abutters and the town fire chief, demonstrated the proposed shed posed no threat to the public health, safety, or welfare. The superior court concluded that the ZBA’s denial of plaintiffs’ variance on the public interest and spirit of the ordinance criteria was not unreasonable or unlawful. Given the evidence before the ZBA, and the considerable deference reflected in its standard of review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court could not find the superior court erred in concluding that the ZBA acted reasonably and lawfully in finding that plaintiffs’ requested variance would violate the spirit of the ordinance and would be contrary to the public interest. View "Perreault v. Town of New Hampton" on Justia Law