Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court

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The Town of Lincoln, New Hampshire, appealed a Water Court order upholding a decision by the Department of Environmental Services (DES) ordering the town to repair the Pemigewasset River Levee. The Water Counsel determined the Town owned the levee pursuant to RSA 482:11-a(2013), and therefore was obligated to maintain and repair the levee. In support of its position, DES contends that, in the Assurance, the Town “agreed to take responsibility for the [l]evee’s ongoing maintenance and repair.”1 However, the fact that the Town undertook certain maintenance obligations in the Assurance does not mean that the additional obligations of “ownership” under RSA 482:11-a can or should be imposed upon the Town. The New Hampshire Supreme Court determined that the Water Council’s conclusion the Town “owned” the levee under RSA 482:11-a was dependent on flawed reasoning that Appeal of Michele, 168 N.H. 98 (2015) controlled the outcome of this case. The Supreme Court concluded the Town met its burden to show the Water Council was unreasonable. The Court did not decide the precise degree of ownership that made a person or entity an “owner” for the purposes of RSA 482:11-a, it held that the limited access easement held by the Town in this case fell short of that threshold. Because the Court’s holding on this issue was dispositive of this case, it declined to address the parties’ other arguments. View "Appeal of Town of Lincoln" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Wayne Sabato appealed, and defendant Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA) cross-appealed a trial court order in a suit brought by plaintiff to establish his homestead right in the subject property. Plaintiff’s wife, Cheryl Sabato, acquired the subject property, taking title by warranty deed that acknowledged she was a “married person,” and granted a purchase money mortgage to a party not identified in the record (the original mortgage), which plaintiff did not sign. Both Cheryl and plaintiff resided at the property since 2001. In January 2002, Cheryl refinanced the original mortgage, executing a new mortgage to HomeVest Mortgage Corporation (the first mortgage). Plaintiff did not sign the first mortgage, which was immediately assigned to CitiMortgage, Inc. In 2005, Cheryl granted a mortgage to National City Bank to secure a home equity line of credit; both Cheryl and plaintiff signed this, the second mortgage. National City Bank was acquired by PNC Bank National Association, which assigned the second mortgage to Situs Investments, LLC (Situs) in 2013. Meanwhile, in 2011, the first mortgage was assigned by CitiMortgage, Inc. to FNMA. In 2014, Situs foreclosed its mortgage, and purchased the property at the foreclosure auction for $64,872.01, taking title subject to the first mortgage. Situs then sold its interest in the property to FNMA. Accordingly, FNMA held title to the property and the first mortgage. In 2016, FNMA notified the Sabatos that they might be evicted from the property. Plaintiff then filed the underlying suit, seeking to establish his homestead right in the property. Both parties moved for summary judgment. Plaintiff contended that foreclosure of the second mortgage did not affect his homestead right because he had not waived that right in the first mortgage. FNMA argued that, because plaintiff waived his homestead interest in the second mortgage, he could not now assert any homestead right. The trial court denied both motions, ruling that the second mortgage was a home equity line of credit, and that some portion of plaintiff's homstead exemption still existed and had to be set-off before FNMA owned the property free and clear. The trial court determined plaintiff was entitled to $120,000 less the amount owed on the note secured by the second mortgage at the time of the foreclosure sale. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Sabato v. Federal National Mortgage Association" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Edward F. Hayes, Jr., as trustee of the Survivor’s Trust A, certified under the Hayes Family Trust dated January 20, 2000 (Hayes Trust), appealed a superior court order in an action to partition real property. The property at issue was owned in equal shares by respondent James Connolly, co-trustee of the Ann D. Connolly Living Trust (Connolly Trust), and the Hayes Trust. The Hayes Trust argued that the trial court erred by specifically enforcing the terms of a contract the parties had abandoned. It further argued the trial court erred in ordering a private sale based on appraisals because the Hayes family needed to maximize the liquidation value of the property. Therefore, it argues that the only “reasonable and fair remedy . . . was [a] private auction.” The Hayes Trust further contended the court erred in impermissibly penalizing it for seeking partition, and by excluding certain testimony regarding a witness’s interest in purchasing the property. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hayes v. Connolly" on Justia Law

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The Town of Belmont appealed a New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) decision that, pursuant to RSA 72:36-a (2012) respondent Robin M. Nordle 2013 Trust was entitled to a 100% real estate tax exemption for a homestead in Belmont. RSA 72:36-a provided that a person who met certain qualifications set forth in the statute, and “who owns a specially adapted homestead which has been acquired with the assistance of the Veterans Administration,” qualified for a property tax exemption. Louis Nordle served during the Vietnam War and was honorably discharged in 1969. In 1998, Louis and his wife, Robin Nordle, purchased a summer camp in Belmont. In 2007, the Nordles demolished the original home and built a new home. The house was later transferred to the Robin M. Nordle 2013 Trust, in which Louis had a life estate in the trust and Robin was the trustee. In 2015, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs determined that Louis was totally and permanently disabled due to his service-connected disabilities. In 2016, Louis received a “Specially Adapted Housing Grant” from the Veterans Administration (VA), and used the funds to modify his home to accommodate his disability. The town originally denied Nordle's application for tax-exempt status, determining that the “home was not ‘acquired’ or ‘purchased’ by or with the assistance of a VA loan.” In making its determination, the town relied upon advice from the New Hampshire Department of Revenue that, in order to be entitled to the property tax exemption, the VA “had to help ‘purchase’ the home not adapt it.” The BTLA reasoned that “the word ‘acquired’ in the statute had a plain meaning broader than simply ‘purchased,’” and that because Louis “obtained, and is now in possession of, a specially adapted homestead . . . only because of the financial assistance he received from the VA,” the taxpayer was entitled to the tax exemption set forth in RSA 72:36-a. The New Hampshire Supreme Court determined that once the remodeling was completed, the taxpayer owned a specially adapted homestead which was “acquired with the assistance of the Veterans Administration.” and affirmed the BTLA’s determination that the taxpayer was entitled to a 100% real estate tax exemption for the homestead in Belmont. View "Appeal of Town of Belmont" on Justia 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