Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court
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Plaintiff Riverbend Condo Association appealed a superior court order dismissing its complaint against defendant Groundhog Landscaping and Property Maintenance, Inc., on res judicata grounds. In 2017, plaintiff brought a breach of contract action against defendant. Neither party appeared at the scheduled trial management conference set by the superior court. The superior court thus canceled trial and dismissed the case. Plaintiff filed a "motion to reopen," asking the court to reopen the matter and reschedule the trial management conference. The superior court denied the motion, stating that plaintiff's pleading constituted an untimely motion to reconsider. Plaintiff thereafter brought a second action, alleging among other things, breach of contact. Defendant moved to dismiss, arguing that the action was barred by res judicata. The trial court ultimately granted defendant's motion. On appeal, plaintiff contended its complaint was not barred by the trial court’s dismissal of its first action against defendant, as that dismissal was not a final judgment on the merits. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Riverbend Condo Association v. Groundhog Landscaping & Property Maintenance, Inc." on Justia Law

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Eighteen petitioners appealed a New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) decision to dismiss their respective appeals of denials of applications for abatements of real estate taxes issued by respondent Town of Bartlett. he BTLA dismissed the appeals because the petitioners’ abatement applications failed to comply with the signature and certification requirement of New Hampshire Administrative Rules, Tax 203.02, and because the BTLA found that the petitioners did not demonstrate that these failures were “due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect.” There was no dispute in this case that petitioners did not personally sign or certify their abatement applications. Instead, petitioners contested the BTLA’s ruling that they did not demonstrate that the lack of signatures and certifications was due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect. "Although the question of whether reasonable cause or willful neglect exists in a particular case is one of fact for the BTLA, the questions of what elements constitute reasonable cause or willful neglect under Tax 203.02 are ones of law." Because the BTLA did not have the benefit of the construction of Tax 203.02(d) that the New Hampshire announced in its opinion of this case, BTLA's decisions were vacated, and each matter remanded for further consideration. View "Appeal of Keith R. Mader 2000 Revocable Trust et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Union Leader Corporation and American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire (ACLU-NH), appealed a superior court order denying their petition for the release of “complete, unredacted copies” of: (1) “the 120-page audit report of the Salem Police Department . . . dated October 12, 2018 focusing on internal affairs complaint investigations”; (2) “the 15-page addendum focused on the [Salem Police] Department’s culture”; and (3) “the 42-page audit report of the [Salem Police] Department dated September 19, 2018 focusing on time and attendance practices” (collectively referred to as the “Audit Report”). The trial court upheld many of the redactions made to the Audit Report by defendant Town of Salem (Town), concluding that they were required by the “internal personnel practices” exemption to the Right-to-Know Law, RSA chapter 91-A, as interpreted in Union Leader Corp. v. Fenniman, 136 N.H. 624 (1993), and its progeny. In a separate opinion, the New Hampshire Supreme Court overruled Fenniman to the extent that it broadly interpreted the “internal personnel practices” exemption and overruled our prior decisions to the extent that they relied on that broad interpretation. Here, the Court overruled Fenniman to the extent that it decided that records related to “internal personnel practices” were categorically exempt from disclosure under the Right-to-Know Law instead of being subject to a balancing test to determine whether such materials are exempt from disclosure. The Court overruled prior decisions to the extent that they applied the per se rule established in Fenniman. The Court vacated the trial court’s order and remanded for further proceedings in light of these changes. View "Union Leader Corporation v. Town of Salem" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Seacoast Newspapers, Inc. appealed a superior court order denying its petition to disclose an arbitration decision concerning the termination of a police officer by defendant City of Portsmouth. Seacoast primarily argued that the New Hampshire Supreme Court previously misconstrued the “internal personnel practices” exemption of our Right-to-Know Law. See RSA 91-A:5, IV (2013). In this opinion, the Court took the opportunity to redefine what falls under the “internal personnel practices” exemption, overruling its prior interpretation set forth in Union Leader Corp. v. Fenniman, 136 N.H. 624 (1993). The Court concluded that only a narrow set of governmental records, namely those pertaining to an agency’s internal rules and practices governing operations and employee relations, fell within that exemption. Accordingly, the Court held the arbitration decision at issue here did not fall under the “internal personnel practices” exemption, vacated the trial court’s order, and remanded for the trial court’s consideration of whether, or to what extent, the arbitration decision was exempt from disclosure because it is a “personnel . . . file[ ].” View "Seacoast Newspapers, Inc. v. City of Portsmouth" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Balzotti Global Group, LLC (the Global Group) and Caesar Balzotti, Sr., appealed a superior court order dismissing their claims against defendants Shepherds Hill Proponents, LLC (Proponents), Shepherds Hill Development Company, LLC (Development Company), Shepherds Hill Homeowners Association, Inc. (Association), Ralph Caruso, and Ernest J. Thibeault, III, on the ground that their claims were time-barred. At some point before 1999, the Development Company obtained approval to construct 400 condominium units. After work had begun on the project, the real estate market collapsed, and the Development Company filed for bankruptcy. Balzotti, Caruso, and Thibeault proposed to reorganize the Development Company so that the project could be completed and creditors could be paid. Their proposal included creating the Proponents, a limited liability company in which Caruso, Thibeault and Balzotti would have an interest. The bankruptcy court accepted the proposal as the reorganization plan in 2000. In 2003, the Development Company established the Shepherds Hill Condominium by recording a declaration of condominium with the county registry of deeds. The Development Company amended the declaration, setting a deadline for the conversion of Units located within the "convertible land." Between February 26, 2003, and July 6, 2009, the Development Company periodically exercised its right to build new condominium units on convertible land. However, by July 6, 2009, only 274 out of the possible 400 units had been constructed. Balzotti opened an involuntary bankruptcy proceeding on Development Company, the Proponents, and Thibeault when they missed payments on a promissory note issued as part of the original bankruptcy plan. By 2011, pursuant to the original condominium declaration, the Association was governed by a board elected by the condominium unit owners. The Development Company unsuccessfully attempted to amend the condominium declaration to obtain rights to develop the remaining land and unfinished units remaining prior to the association taking control. By 2018, plaintiffs sued the Development Company, Proponents, Caruso and Thibeault, asserting a number of claims arising out of the Development Company's loss of the Development Right. Defendants successfully argued plaintiffs' claims were time-barred because they were brought more than three years after the Development Right was lost. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not err in concluding plaintiffs' claims were time barred. View "Balzotti Global Group, LLC v. Shepherds Hill Proponents, LLC" on Justia Law

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Petitioner New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) appealed a decision by the New Hampshire Wetlands Council remanding an administrative order issued by DES that directed respondents Bryan and Linda Corr to cease and desist unpermitted work on their lakefront property. The Corrs owned property in Moultonborough located on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee. When they purchased the property, it contained a dry boathouse, positioned approximately two feet from the shore, which was partially collapsed as a result of snow load. The boathouse was considered a “grandfathered” or nonconforming structure for purposes of the Shoreland Protection Act. The Corrs made plans to replace the boathouse. They hired a land use consultant to assist them with the process, which required approvals from the Town of Moultonborough, as well as DES. After obtaining the building permit from the Town and the PBN from DES, the Corrs commenced construction. They spent over $100,000 on the permitted structure. When the structure was framed and nearing completion, DES visited the site to conduct an inspection, purportedly in response to a complaint the department had received. Subsequently, DES issued a Letter of Deficiency to the Corrs informing them that the structure was 27 feet tall, and therefore not compliant with DES regulations. The Corrs appealed DES’ administrative order to the Council. In their appeal, the Corrs raised four alternative arguments as to how DES had acted unlawfully and unreasonably in issuing its order. The New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed with the Corrs that DES did not have the authority to limit the height of their structure. The COurt affirmed the Council's decision to the extent that it concluded that a 12-foot height restriction did not apply to the Corrs’ structure. However, the Court vacated all other aspects of the Council’s decision, remanding with instructions to grant the Corrs’ appeal and to vacate DES’ administrative order, which relied solely on the alleged height violation. In light of the result reached, the Court did not address any additional arguments raised by the parties. View "Appeal of New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire certified questions of law to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. Plaintiffs Caroline Casey, Maggie Flaherty, and the New Hampshire Democratic Party filed suit over voting eligibility. Casey and Flaherty were Dartmouth College students who wished to vote in New Hampshire while attending college, but who did not intend to remain in New Hampshire after graduation. Both had driver’s licenses issued by states other than New Hampshire. In 2018, both registered to vote in New Hampshire. Neither Casey nor Flaherty owned a motor vehicle. The Supreme Court held: (1) the definitions of "resident" and "residence" were effectively the same as "domicile" such that one with a New Hampshire "domicile" was necessarily a New Hampshire "resident;" (2) a student who claims a New Hampshire domicile was a New Hampshire resident; (4) an individual who claims a New Hampshire domicile necessarily establishes a "bona fide residency;" and (5) given the definition of non-resident in RSA 259:67, I for the Motor Vehicle Code, college students who resided in New Hampshire for more than six months in any year were required to obtain New Hampshire drivers’ licenses by RSA 263:1 if they wished to drive in the state and were required by RSA 261:40 to register in New Hampshire any vehicles they kept in the state. The Supreme Court declined to answer the federal district court's question (3), because the answer to that question was not “determinative of the cause then pending in the certifying court.” View "Casey v. New Hampshire Secretary of State" on Justia Law

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Yunnan New Ocean Aquatic Product Science and Technology Group Co., Ltd. and subsidiaries (YOK defendants) appealed a New Hampshire superior court order attaching funds held by High Liner Foods (USA), Inc. (High Liner USA), the trustee defendant. The YOK defendants argued the trial court erred by maintaining quasi in rem jurisdiction over the funds despite concluding that it lacked personal jurisdiction over them in the underlying action. In 2012, Fortune Laurel, LLC, a Massachusetts company, entered into contracts with the YOK defendants to broker the sale of fish processed by the YOK defendants to companies in the United States and Canada. One company was located in Massachusetts, (later acquired by a Canadian company, High Liner Foods, Inc. (Canada)). High Liner Canada rebranded its corporate acquisition High Liner Foods (USA) and moved to Portsmouth. High Liner USA solicited fish from High Liner Canada, which procured the fish from international sellers, including the YOK defendants. The YOK defendants shipped the fish to High Liner USA in Massachusetts or Virginia. Upon High Liner USA’s acceptance of the fish, the YOK defendants invoiced High Liner USA and the invoice was paid by High Liner Canada, which then invoiced High Liner USA. After the written contract between Fortune Laurel and the YOK defendants expired, the YOK defendants continued to use Fortune Laurel to broker its sales with High Liner USA until 2017, when “the YOK defendants decided to exclude [Fortune Laurel] from the relationship.” Fortune Laurel claimed that the YOK defendants failed to pay commissions in 2017, improperly caused High Liner Canada to revoke its access to High Liner’s online tracking system, sold it fish for resale in Massachusetts that failed to meet applicable standards, and made fraudulent insurance claims that have negatively affected its business. Fortune Laurel also filed a petition for an ex parte attachment of funds that High Liner USA owed YOK as payment for shipments. The trial court found that several of Fortune Laurel’s claims were “wholly unrelated” to New Hampshire and thus that “dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction was appropriate.” Nonetheless, the trial court ruled that it could continue to exercise quasi in rem jurisdiction over the attached funds. The New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed because the trial court’s limited exercise of jurisdiction over the attached funds comported with due process requirements. View "Fortune Laurel, LLC v. High Liner Foods (USA), Incorporated, Trustee" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Alexander Walker, Jr. appealed a superior court order dismissing his claim of conspiracy to defame on res judicata grounds after finding privity between defendant Aaron Day, and other defendants in a separate defamation action. While plaintiff’s defamation action was pending, he filed a lawsuit against defendant, alleging a claim of conspiracy to commit defamation and seeking enhanced compensatory damages. The complaint described the defamation, which provided the basis for the conspiracy claim, in much the same terms as the complaint in the separate defamation action, but also alleged facts to support the conspiracy claim. Defendant moved to dismiss the conspiracy action on the grounds of, inter alia, res judicata, arguing, in part, that he was in privity with the defamation defendants for res judicata purposes. On appeal, plaintiff argued the trial court erred by: (1) deciding the privity issue at the motion to dismiss stage; and (2) applying the First Circuit Court of Appeals’ privity standard, rather than New Hampshire precedent, to determine privity. The New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed that the trial court erred by applying the privity standard used by the First Circuit, and, therefore, vacated the trial court’s ruling and remanded. View "Walker v. Day" on Justia Law

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Defendant Paul Bernier appealed two superior court orders granting partial summary judgment to plaintiff Thomas Loeffler, and denying his subsequent motion for reconsideration. The court ruled that defendant was estopped by deed from denying that plaintiff had an implied easement to access a right-of- way located on defendant’s property from a specific point on plaintiff’s property. The court also denied defendant leave to raise new arguments at the reconsideration stage asserting that plaintiff had abandoned any implied easement and, alternatively, that the purpose of any implied easement had been frustrated. Finding no reversible error in the superior court's judgments, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Loeffler v. Bernier" on Justia Law