Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court
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Defendant Nicholas Saykaly appealed a circuit court order issuing a writ of possession to plaintiff, Amanda Colburn. On appeal, defendant argued the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear plaintiff’s landlord-tenant action because the home in question was marital property subject to the parties’ ongoing divorce proceeding, and because defendant was not a “tenant” of the plaintiff. He contended the circuit court's Family Division had exclusive jurisdiction over the home until either the divorce proceeding was finalized or the family division relinquished jurisdiction over the home. Because it concluded the district division had jurisdiction to hear and decide this case, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Colburn v. Saykaly" on Justia Law

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Respondent Joshua Ndyaija appealed various Circuit Court orders following the parties’ divorce. He argued the trial court erred by: (1) dismissing his motion for contempt against petitioner Crystal Ndyaija; (2) denying his motion regarding parental interference; (3) denying his motion to restrain; (4) modifying his child support obligations for the parties’ minor child; (5) denying his motion to modify the parties’ parenting plan and permanent stipulation, vacating a provision of the parenting plan, and ordering him to pay the petitioner’s attorney’s fees; and (6) granting the petitioner’s motion to approve daycare enrollment for the child. Respondent also argued the trial court lacked jurisdiction to make an initial child custody determination under RSA chapter 458-A (2018), and lacked jurisdiction over the divorce action under RSA 458:5 and :6 (2018). After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concludes the trial court properly exercised jurisdiction over the child custody proceeding under RSA chapter 458-A and the divorce action under RSA 458:5 and :6. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the respondent’s motion for contempt, motion to restrain, and motion regarding parental interference. As for the trial court’s amended uniform support order, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by applying the petitioner’s calculation of respondent’s income in determining his amended child support obligation, declining to adjust the child support obligation, ordering the respondent to pay an arrearage, and ordering him to pay his child support obligation to DCSS by immediate income assignment. However, the Court vacate and remanded the amended uniform support order for the trial court to: (1) consider income from the petitioner’s second job; (2) require petitioner to comply with Family Division Rules 1.25-A(B)(1)(c) and 2.16 by providing four pay stubs per employer or to establish good cause to waive this requirement; and (3) consider the amount of child support the respondent paid during the arrearage period in its arrearage calculation. Finally, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not unsustainably exercise its discretion by denying the respondent’s requests to modify the parties’ parenting plan and permanent stipulation and vacating paragraph G of the parenting plan. View "In the Matter of Crystal & Joshua Ndyaija" on Justia Law

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Sandra Moscicki appealed a superior court order denying her motion to exclude expert testimony proffered by the appellees, Charles and Heidi Leno. In July 2008, the Lenos’ twin children, a boy and a girl, were born. In September 2009, the Lenos and their children moved into an apartment owned by Moscicki’s trust. Shortly thereafter, when the children were approximately eighteen months old, Heidi Leno “expressed concerns” regarding their son’s “speech and development.” Charles Leno had also observed that their son exhibited “significant developmental problems in the months before his eighteen-month checkup.” In October 2009, both children were tested for lead. The test revealed that both children had elevated blood lead levels (EBLLs). The children were again tested for lead in July 2010, shortly after their second birthday. This test revealed that they again had EBLLs, higher than previously recorded. Thereafter, the Lenos and their children moved out of Moscicki’s apartment. Moscicki brought an action against the Lenos, seeking unpaid rent. The Lenos then filed an action against Moscicki, alleging that their children suffered harm as a result of lead exposure while living in the apartment. The trial court consolidated these actions. The interlocutory question transferred to the New Hampshire Supreme Court called for the Court to decide whether for an expert opinion on causation to be admissible in a toxic tort case, the expert had to consider the “dose-response relationship” in reaching that opinion. The Supreme Court answered in the negative and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Moscicki v. Leno" on Justia Law

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Respondent L.N. appealed a circuit court order denying a motion to authorize removal of life support filed by her guardian. In 2018, tests indicated that L.N. had suffered a stroke. L.N. was 69 years old at the time of the orders on appeal, and had “enjoyed a full, active, independent life” prior to her stroke on September 12. Thereafter, L.N. remained in the hospital on a ventilator to assist with breathing and a nasal-gastric tube for nutrition and hydration. L.N.’s attorney informed the court in a motion for expedited hearing that “[a]fter consulting with personnel, it has been indicated that [L.N.] will probably not survive the massive stroke which precipitated this hospitalization, but there is no one with authority to act.” There was no evidence that L.N. had previously executed either a living will or a durable power of attorney for healthcare. M.C., a former co-worker, was ultimately appointed as guardian. Based upon conversations, the guardian’s sense was that L.N. “would want to be allowed to have a natural death.” Notwithstanding testimony by L.N.’s caregivers and guardian, the trial court concluded that, “in cases of doubt, the Court must assume that the patient would choose to defend life” and did “not find that [L.N.] - under the facts in this case - would choose to have life support removed and a natural death process to occur.” On appeal, L.N. argues that the probate court erred in determining that “it had jurisdiction to make a determination as to the appropriateness, or lack thereof, of the removal of life support in the case of a patient who was in a persistent vegetative state” where “no party challeng[ed] the proposed removal.” She further argued that, even if the court had the authority to exercise its discretion in this matter, its findings were unsupported by the testimony. The New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed the order denying authority to remove life support and vacated, in part, the order appointing the guardian: “Because any limitation on the guardian’s RSA 464-A:25, I(d) authority after the October 17 hearing was not supported by the statutorily-required finding that it was “desirable for the best interests of [L.N.],” RSA 464-A:25, II, we vacate that limitation. Without that limitation, the guardianship order’s grant of the ‘right and authority to determine if refusal should be made or consent should be given to any medical or other professional care, counseling, treatment, or service’ constitutes a general grant of authority that includes the authority to withdraw life-sustaining treatment in appropriate circumstances.” View "In re Guardianship of L.N." on Justia Law

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Respondent, the father of the juvenile (Father), appealed a superior court order denying his motion for permission to file a late appeal of an adverse ruling issued by the Circuit Court on an abuse and neglect petition brought by petitioner, the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF). The superior court found that Father failed to demonstrate “good cause” for filing a late appeal. After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court held as a matter of law, that it was “reasonable and just” to grant Father’s motion to file his appeal late. Father filed his partially-assented-to motion to file a late appeal on April 17, 2019, before the parties had ever appeared in the superior court. Father did not file his appeal earlier because his attorney was on maternity leave when the dispositional order was entered, and “[t]here was a misunderstanding between father and [his] counsel’s office regarding the filing of the appeal.” The attorney for the child and the attorney for Mother assented to Father’s motion. According to the superior court, the parties preferred that Father’s and Mother’s cases “be tried together.” Under these circumstances, the Court concluded there was good cause, as a matter of law, to grant Father’s motion to file a late appeal. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "In Re D.O." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Ventas Realty Limited Partnership (Ventas), appealed a superior court order denying its request for an abatement of the real estate taxes it paid defendant City of Dover (City), for the 2014 tax year. The subject real estate consists of a 5.15-acre site containing a skilled nursing facility serving both short-term and long-term patients, two garages, and a parking lot. At issue was the City’s April 1, 2014 assessment of the real estate at a value of $4,308,500. Ventas alleged that it timely applied to the City for an abatement of its 2014 taxes. The City presumably denied or failed to act upon the request, and Ventas, thereafter, petitioned the superior court for an abatement pursuant to RSA 76:17 (Supp. 2018), alleging that the City had unlawfully taxed the property in excess of its fair market value. Expert witnesses for both sides opined the property’s highest and best use was as a skilled nursing facility. The experts also agreed that the most reliable method for determining the property’s fair market value was the income capitalization method, although the City’s expert also completed analyses under the sales comparison and cost approaches. Both experts examined the same comparable properties and they also used similar definitions of “fair market value.” The main difference between the approaches of the two experts is that the City's expert used both market projections and the property’s actual income and expenses from 2012, 2013, and 2014 to forecast the property’s future net income, while Ventas' expert did not. Ventas' expert used the property’s actual income and expenses for the 11 months before the April 1, 2014 valuation date, without any market-based adjustments. Despite their different approaches, the experts gave similar estimates of the property’s projected gross income for tax year 2014. The experts differed greatly in their estimates of the property’s projected gross operating expenses for tax year 2014. All of Ventas’ arguments faulted the trial court for finding the City's expert's valuations more credible than its own expert's valuations. The New Hampshire found the trial court made numerous, specific findings which were supported by the record as to why it rejected Ventas' expert's appraisal. Accordingly, the Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s determination that Ventas' expert's appraisal failed to meet Ventas’ burden of proof. View "Ventas Realty Limited Partnership v. City of Dover" on Justia Law

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Respondent R.M. appealed a circuit court order that renewed his involuntary admission to New Hampshire Hospital for the purpose of allowing him to remain on a conditional discharge for a period of five years. Respondent was a 30-year-old man who had been hospitalized on multiple occasions as a result of schizophrenia. When respondent doesn't take his prescribed anti-psychotic medication, he becomes paranoid, violent, and suicidal. In addition, he experienced hallucinations, paranoid delusions, and difficulties with impulse control and exhibited “a serious level of aggression.” Respondent was first hospitalized in 2010 after voicing suicidal ideation, stating that he would be “better off dead.” Pertinent here, was admitted on an emergency basis again in February 2015 due to concerns of suicidal threats, incapacity, and his paranoid belief that people were conspiring against him. In early March 2019, a few weeks before the respondent’s three-year conditional discharge was set to expire, the local community mental health center filed a petition to renew his conditional discharge. On appeal, respondent challenged the sufficiency of the evidence and argued the five-year renewal was not the least restrictive treatment option. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re R.M." on Justia Law

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Defendant Antonio Barletta appealed a circuit court order that awarded plaintiff Jacquelyn Lane $66,000 in damages for his willful interruption of plaintiff’s heat utility service for thirty-three days. Plaintiff rented an apartment from defendant. Shortly after moving in, plaintiff and her grandfather noticed the heating system did not produce heat. Plaintiff notified the defendant of the problem via text message on September 26, 2016, and was told to call the maintenance person for the property. When the maintenance person arrived, he turned on the heating system and observed the pilot light, and instructed plaintiff to leave the system on for a while. He told plaintiff that if she did not begin to feel any heat to contact defendant. The heating problems persisted, and when plaintiff informed defendant, he told her that he would send over a space heater and repair or replace the heating system. Plaintiff received the space heater in November 2016, and, in December, she informed defendant the space heater “[wa]sn’t cutting it.” However, the space heater remained her only source of heat. In August 2017, plaintiff called the local health inspector hoping that a letter from that office might prompt defendant to take action. Nevertheless, the heating system was not repaired. On appeal defendant argued the trial court erred in finding that he caused a “willful interruption” of the plaintiff’s heating service. Alternatively, he argued that even if he did violate RSA 540- A:3, I, the trial court erred in awarding enhanced damages pursuant to RSA 540-A:4, IX(a) (Supp. 2018) and RSA 358-A:10, I (2009). Plaintiff cross-appealed the trial court's denial of her motion for reconsideration as untimely. The New Hampshire Supreme Court vacated the order of the trial court and remanded for further proceedings, concluding that although defendant willfully failed to repair plaintiff’s original heat source, he may not have willfully interrupted plaintiff’s heat in violation of RSA 540-A:3, I, if the space heater he provided was an adequate alternative source of heat. The adequacy of the space heater was not considered by the trial court in the first instance. Therefore, the trial court’s finding of a statutory violation was vacated, as was the damages award resulting from that violation. Plaintiff’s argument that the trial court erred in denying her motion for reconsideration became moot. View "Lane v. Barletta" on Justia Law

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Petitioner appealed a circuit court order denying her petition to modify or terminate the guardianship of respondents over her minor biological daughter, K.B. The guardianship was granted by a court of the State of Connecticut in 2010. Because the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the circuit court did not have jurisdiction over this petition to modify another state’s child-custody determination, it vacated and remanded with instructions to dismiss the petition. View "In re Guardianship of K.B." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Amy Burnap appealed a superior court order granting summary judgment to the Somersworth School District (District) on her claim of employment discrimination based upon her sexual orientation. The District hired the plaintiff as the Dean of Students at Somersworth High School for a one-year period beginning in July 2015. It was undisputed plaintiff “is a member of a protected class of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender individuals.” In January 2016, several instances of purported misconduct involving plaintiff came to light, setting in motion a sequence of events that culminated in her termination. She argued to the New Hampshire Supreme Court that the trial court erred because there were disputed material facts that could allow a jury to determine that the District’s stated reason for firing her, sexual harassment, was a pretext for unlawful sexual orientation discrimination because: (1) her colleagues’ alleged discriminatory animus infected the District’s decision to fire her; and (2) a preliminary investigation conducted prior to the District’s decision was a “sham.” The Supreme Court affirmed because there were insufficient facts in the record from which a jury could find, under either argument, that the District fired the plaintiff because of her sexual orientation and used sexual harassment as a pretext. View "Burnap v. Somersworth School District" on Justia Law