Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court

by
The Second Church of Christ, Scientist, Melbourne (Australia) appealed a circuit court order denying it standing to request affirmative relief and enforce certain charitable trusts created by the will of Mary Baker Eddy. Mary Baker Eddy founded the Church of Christian Science and, upon her death in 1910, her will established two testamentary trusts, known as the Clause VI Trust and Clause VIII Trust. In previous litigation concerning these trusts, we upheld the validity of the trusts and established that the bequest in Clause VIII was to be held in trust for two purposes, church building repair and “promoting and extending the religion of Christian Science as taught by [Mrs. Eddy].” The underlying litigation commenced in 2015, when Second Church, an alleged qualified beneficiary of the Clause VIII Trust, sought to review, and potentially object to, the annual accounting filed by the trustees. In March 2018, the trial court issued an order finding that Second Church failed to satisfy its burden to demonstrate that it had standing. The trial court acknowledged the general rule that when a trust is determined to be charitable, it becomes the duty of the attorney general to ensure that the rights of the public in the trust are protected and that the trust is properly executed. The court further noted that New Hampshire law was unclear as to whether a possible beneficiary of a charitable trust, like Second Church here, had standing. Looking to other jurisdictions for guidance, the trial court determined that most jurisdictions have ruled that a possible beneficiary is generally not entitled to sue for enforcement of the trust. After considering how other courts have applied the doctrine of special interest standing, the trial court applied a five-factor test, often referred to as the Blasko test. The trial court found that none of the factors weighed in favor of granting Second Church standing. The New Hampshire Supreme Court found no reversible error in the trial court's judgment and affirmed Second Church lacked standing. View "In re Trust of Mary Baker Eddy" on Justia Law

by
Respondent Adam Thatcher and petitioner Haley St. Pierre met in August 2012. Later that year, they moved in together, having developed a romantic relationship. In February 2013, petitioner traveled to New York for a weekend, where she had sexual relations with Colby Santaw, a former boyfriend. Shortly thereafter, she discovered that she was pregnant. Upon learning of the pregnancy, she informed respondent that he was the father, and notified Santaw that he was not. Respondent, having been made aware of petitioner’s intimate relations with Santaw, asked if Santaw could be the father. Petitioner assured respondent the child was his. The child was born on October 31, 2013. An affidavit of paternity was completed by the parties at the hospital following the child’s birth. Prior to signing the affidavit, the parties were informed by hospital staff that if they thought there was a chance that the respondent was not the father, they should not sign the affidavit. Respondent was ultimately listed as the child’s father on the birth certificate. The parties married in January 2014, and, citing irreconcilable differences, divorced in July 2015. Following the divorce, petitioner rekindled her relationship with Santaw. On a trip together in October 2015, petitioner and Santaw began discussing the birthdate of the child. After considering the timing of his intimate relationship with petitioner and the child’s date of birth, Santaw believed that he might be the child’s father. This belief was strengthened when he compared baby pictures of the child to his own baby pictures, and noticed a resemblance. Shortly thereafter, petitioner and Santaw agreed to conduct genetic testing. In October 2015, these test results confirmed that Santaw was the child’s biological father. Petitioner filed a petition pro se, seeking to amend hers and respondent’s parenting plan regarding the child. She wanted to change the child’s name and remove respondent from the birth certificate. Respondent resisted the change, and resisted petitioner’s request to move with the child from New Hampshire to Florida. The New Hampshire Supreme Court believed the trial court record supported the trial court’s rescission of the paternity affidavit based on material mistake of fact made by the parties. Furthermore, the Court believed there was sufficient evidence to support the grant of primary custodial responsibilities to petitioner and allowing the child to relocate. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s order. View "In the Matter of St. Pierre & Thatcher" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner Steven Silva appealed a New Hampshire Personnel Appeals Board (PAB) decision that upheld decisions of respondent, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), to suspend and subsequently terminate the petitioner’s employment. Petitioner began working at the New Hampshire Hospital in 1999. He was terminated from employment in 2015 for violating the hospital’s sexual harassment policy. In 2016, the PAB found that the petitioner’s 2015 termination did not comply with New Hampshire Administrative Rules, Per 1002.08(d) because DHHS did not provide the petitioner, prior to termination, with all of the evidence it relied upon to justify his termination, and, consequently, he was not given an opportunity to refute the evidence that led to his dismissal. For that reason, the PAB ordered DHHS to reinstate the petitioner retroactively to the date of his termination and award him back pay and benefits. Following the PAB’s order, DHHS resumed paying the petitioner but simultaneously placed him on suspension so that it could conduct a new investigation into the same sexual harassment allegations that formed the basis for the 2015 termination. In 2017, after completing its investigation, DHHS terminated the petitioner again. The petitioner appealed his suspension as well as his 2017 termination to the PAB, arguing that the PAB’s decision overturning his prior termination prevents DHHS from terminating or suspending him for the same conduct. After a hearing on the merits, the PAB upheld the suspension and subsequent termination. On appeal, petitioner argued the statutory reinstatement requirement in the Administrative Rules precluded DHHS from terminating him a second time for the same conduct which gave rise to his 2015 termination. The New Hampshire Supreme Court found that because the PAB’s decision overturning the 2015 termination was based upon DHHS’s failure to satisfy the requirements of Per 1002.08(d) prior to termination, it was not a final judgment on the merits for res judicata purposes. Therefore Silva's argument failed and the Supreme Court affirmed the PAB's decision. View "Appeal of Steven Silva" on Justia Law

by
In 2016, petitioners Kenneth T. Riso and Rocco R. Riso, Jr. filed a petition requesting the partition of property in Raymond, New Hampshire that was held by them and their siblings as tenants in common following the death of their mother. The petition also sought relief against respondent Gregory Riso individually for money allegedly converted by respondent from his mother’s estate. Specifically, the petition asserted breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, and fraudulent misrepresentation. These claims stemmed from two checks written in 2012 that respondent drew from his mother’s personal account under authority of a durable power of attorney she executed prior to her death. Respondent answered the lawsuit on August 29, 2016, in which he asserted, among other things, that petitioners’ claims were barred by the statute of limitations. The trial court ultimately concluded respondent forfeited his right to the statute of limitations defense. After review of the trial court record, the New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed and affirmed denial of respondent's motion for reconsideration. View "Riso v. Riso" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Pro Done, Inc. appealed a superior court order dismissing its amended complaint against defendants Teresa Basham, individually and as non-independent trustee of the Paul R. Hooper 1998 GST Exempt Trust, Terrence Hooper, Timothy Hooper, and John Ransmeier, trustee of the Paul R. Hooper 1997 Trust, for breach of contract, tortious interference with contractual relations, and civil conspiracy. Specifically, plaintiff challenged the trial court’s ruling that an alleged violation of a certain contractual provision did not provide a basis for plaintiff’s claims. After their father's death, defendant each received a portion of their father’s one-third ownership interest in three companies known as the Pro-Cut entities, to be held in trust by John Ransmeier. In 2012, the sibling defendants negotiated with Joseph Willey, another owner of the Pro-Cut entities, to sell their ownership interests. They eventually agreed upon a sale price, and in November 2013, Ransmeier, on the sibling defendants’ behalf, executed fifteen Securities Redemption Agreements (SRAs) with the Pro-Cut entities, the terms of which were stated to be binding upon “the heirs, personal representatives, successors and assigns of the parties.” After these transactions, one of the Pro-Cut entities, Brake Solutions, Inc., acquired another Pro-Cut entity. It then changed its name to Pro-Cut International, Inc. In May 2014, three unrelated companies, collectively known as Snap-on, purchased the Pro-Cut entities. Pro-Cut was renamed Pro Done, Inc. Plaintiff alleged it was a successor to the Pro-Cut entities. After Snap-on’s purchase of the Pro-Cut entities, the sibling defendants filed a lawsuit, with the assistance of Ransmeier, in federal district court, against Willey and trustees of trusts that were members of the Pro-Cut entities at the time of the Snap-on transaction. Plaintiff thereafter filed the underlying lawsuit to this appeal. Its central arguments were mainly the trial court erred by ignoring express terms of the release agreements - in which the defendants “covenant[ed] not to sue and otherwise agree[d] not to enforce any claim” against the plaintiff - and denied the plaintiff the opportunity to seek consequential damages for breach of the contract, contrary to New Hampshire law. The parties’ arguments presented a question of first impression for this the New Hampshire Supreme Court: whether New Hampshire law recognized a cause of action for breach of contract based upon a covenant not to sue where the contract did not expressly provide that the non-breaching party was entitled to consequential damages for breach of the covenant. The Court held that it did, reversed the trial court, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Pro Done, Inc. v. Basham" on Justia Law

by
Appellant Sean Pearson appealed a circuit court order dismissing his petitions for parenting time for lack of standing. Appellant is the biological father of a child born in March 2010. Appellant surrendered his parental rights to the child in 2012. In conjunction with the surrender, the mother adopted the child and became the child's sole parent. The mother allowed appellant to have contact with the child after the surrender; the parties disputed the nature and frequency of that contact. Appellant moved to reopen the surrender case in 2014. The probate division denied the motion after reviewing, inter alia, the recording of the 2012 hearing at which the appellant surrendered his parental rights to the child. Based on the record, the probate division concluded that appellant “was fully advised of his rights at the time of the [surrender] proceeding,” “knowingly and voluntarily waived those rights,” and “freely and voluntarily acknowledged” that he would no longer be the parent of the child upon the court’s acceptance of the surrender. In 2017, appellant filed petitions for parenting time with the child in the family division. The mother moved to dismiss, arguing in part that the appellant lacked standing because he had surrendered his parental rights to the child in 2012. Relying on In the Matter of J.B. & J.G., 157 N.H. 577 (2008), appellant claimed he had standing because he had “acted as [the child]’s father” in the years since the surrender. At the appellant’s request, the trial court held an evidentiary hearing on the motion to dismiss, at which it heard testimony concerning, inter alia, the frequency and nature of the appellant’s contact with the child post-surrender. Following the hearing, the court granted the motion to dismiss for lack of standing. The New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed appellant lacked standing and affirmed dismissal of appellant's petitions. View "In the Matter of Richell Chrestensen & Sean Pearson" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Natalie Anderson appealed a circuit court judgment entered in favor of defendant Adam Robitaille on her petition seeking damages and other relief pursuant to RSA chapter 540-A. Defendant was the general manager of the Homewood Suites by Hilton hotel in Nashua. In November 2015, plaintiff and her husband began residing at Homewood. According to plaintiff, she and her husband shared a full-size apartment with a fully-equipped kitchen, a separate bedroom, separate bathroom, living room, and a dining area, for which they were charged $84 per night plus tax for the unit. Their stay was originally intended to last approximately one year. Plaintiff asserted their stay was extended until May 2017. According to plaintiff, on or about January 4, 2017, defendant informed her by e-mail that her stay would not be extended past January 6. Plaintiff contended that the deadline was later extended to January 10, but was told that if she and her husband did not leave on January 10, the police would be called. Plaintiff brought the instant petition under RSA chapter 540-A on January 9, requesting, in addition to statutory damages, that the trial court enjoin the defendant from ejecting her and her husband from their residential unit. At a January 18 hearing, the parties agreed that the dispositive issue before the court was whether plaintiff and her husband were “tenants” entitled to remedies under RSA chapter 540-A. They further agreed that the court could decide the matter based upon the parties’ pleadings. The trial court found in favor of defendant, concluding that plaintiff and her husband were not “tenants” entitled to RSA chapter 540-A remedies. Plaintiff unsuccessfully moved for reconsideration. The New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed with the circuit court: plaintiff and her husband were not tenants entitled to remedies under RSA chapter 540-A as a matter of law. View "Anderson v. Robitaille" on Justia Law

by
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

by
The New Hampshire Supreme Court accepted a petition in its original jurisdiction to determine whether the Superior Court erred in ordering the New Hampshire Secretary of State and the New Hampshire Attorney General, defendants in litigation pending before that court, to produce to plaintiffs in the litigation, the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Democratic Party, and various individuals, the New Hampshire Centralized Voter Registration Database established pursuant to RSA 654:45 (Supp. 2018). The Supreme Court concluded the Database was exempt from disclosure by statute, and therefore vacated the trial court’s order. View "Petition of New Hampshire Secretary of State" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Michelle Clark appealed a superior court order granting summary judgment to defendants the New Hampshire Department of Employment Security (DES), Dianne Carpenter, Darrell Gates, Sandra Jamak, Colleen O’Neill, Tara Reardon, and Gloria Timmons, on plaintiff’s claims alleging a violation of the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act, and the Public Employee Freedom of Expression Act. She also appealed an order dismissing her claim of wrongful discharge/demotion against DES. As a supervisor, plaintiff was responsible for supervising approximately fifteen employees, including three interns, two of whom were children of two named defendants. Plaintiff became concerned about issues relating to her interns’ hours and responsibilities and their behavior in the workplace. Notwithstanding receiving positive performance evaluations, after voicing concerns, plaintiff became concerned her supervisors altered a review she had prepared for an employee under her supervision because the employee had complained about the interns and Timmons’ management. A second evaluation was negative, and she did not receive a promised promotion. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff received a letter from a DES Human Resources Administrator, informing her that she would be laid off pursuant to a mandatory reduction in force. Prior to her layoff date, plaintiff accepted a demotion to the position of Program Assistant I in lieu of a layoff. Thereafter, plaintiff appealed her demotion to the New Hampshire Personnel Appeals Board (PAB) through a grievance representative from her union. In her appeal, she alleged that she was unlawfully demoted in response to raising concerns about the hours and behavior of the interns. In this case before the New Hampshire Supreme Court, plaintiff alleged she experienced various forms of harassment in retaliation for voicing her concerns while she was supervisor: her car was “egged” in the DES parking lot, her home mailbox was smashed, and she received anonymous phone calls and mail at home and at work. As a result of distress from these incidents, plaintiff went on medical leave from December 2011 to February 2012. In addition to her PAB appeal, plaintiff communicated with other state agencies about the intern issues and the harassment she was experiencing: in May 2012, she filed a complaint with the New Hampshire Executive Branch Ethics Committee against Reardon for failing to address misuse of the hiring system, nepotism, and harassment; in June 2012, she filed a whistleblower complaint with the New Hampshire Department of Labor against DES on similar grounds; and, at some point, she participated in an investigation of DES by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's order relating to plaintiff's ongoing-retaliation claim, and remanded the whistleblower protection claim. Plaintiff’s claim under RSA 98- E:4, I, expressly entitled her to injunctive relief as part of her freedom of expression claim, which was also remanded to the trial court. The Court affirmed as to all other respects of the trial court's order. View "Clark v. New Hampshire Dept. of Employment Security" on Justia Law