Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court
by
The trial court certified a question of law to the New Hampshire Supreme Court on interlocutory transfer. John Rankin (Rankin) and his wife MaryAnne (collectively, plaintiffs)sued after Rankin fell while leaving a business located at 70 South Main Street in Hanover, New Hampshire (the property). The property was owned by South Street Downtown Holdings, Inc. (South Street). In March 2017, plaintiffs sued South Street for negligence and loss of consortium, alleging that Rankin fell on an “inadequate and dangerous ramp or partial stair” that “did not meet applicable building codes.” The trial court asked the Supreme Court whether RSA 508:4-b (“the statute of repose”) as amended in 1990 applied to and bar third party actions by a property owner defendant (in a premises liability action) for indemnity and/or contribution against architects involved in the design of the improvement to real property which the injured plaintiff alleges was dangerous and did not meet applicable building codes. The Supreme Court concluded that it did. View "Rankin v. South Street Downtown Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Defendants, the City of Rochester (City) and Michael and Stacey Philbrook, appealed superior court orders : (1) requiring the City to reacquire title to a parcel of land it previously conveyed to the Philbrooks and transfer title to plaintiffs Donald and Bonnie Toy; and (2) awarding attorney’s fees to the Toys. In May 2015, the City took title to a 1.8-acre parcel of land located in Rochester (Lot 54). The Philbrooks owned a lot adjacent to Lot 54. The Toys owned a manufactured housing park known as “Addison Estates” and an additional, smaller lot located nearby. In 2015, the Toys purchased an additional lot, which shared boundaries with Addison Estates and Lot 54. Lot 54 was located in a zoning district in which the development or expansion of manufactured housing parks was prohibited. The Rochester City Council voted to sell Lot 54 through an advertised sealed bid process. The Toys submitted the highest bid and represented that they intended to “annex the property” to their adjacent property. The Philbrooks submitted the lowest bid stating that they intended to “[a]dd this abutting land to [their] land.” The city council reached a “‘consensus’” that the City would sell Lot 54 to the Toys, provided that they agreed to a restrictive covenant in the deed prohibiting the owner of Lot 54 from ever using the property for manufactured housing park development or to expand Addison Estates. The city council also agreed that, if the Toys did not accept the restrictive covenant, it would sell the lot to the Philbrooks. The Toys’ attorney declined purchase with the covenant. The City then sold the property to the Philbrooks with a warranty deed that did not contain any restrictive covenants. The Toys filed a complaint against the City and the Philbrooks, seeking damages, a declaration that the Toys were “lawfully entitled to the right of first refusal” on Lot 54, an order concluding that the City “breached the Conditions of Sale by transferring” Lot 54 to the Philbrooks and requiring the Philbrooks to convey Lot 54 to the Toys, and attorney’s fees. The defendants moved to dismiss. Although, ideally, the City should have included the restrictive covenant in the Notice of Sale or the Conditions of Sale, the New Hampshire Supreme Court disagreed with the trial court that the City could not subsequently revise the terms of sale to include the restrictive covenant. However, the Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that, in contravention of controlling case law, the City failed to treat the Toys “fairly and equally” when it did not require the Philbrooks to accept the same restrictive covenant demanded of the Toys. Therefore, the City's covenant requirement was “outside the bounds of fairness.” Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s conclusion that the City did not treat the Toys “fairly and equally” — but only to the limited extent that the City failed to require that other bidders, including the Philbrooks, accept the restrictive covenant. The attorney fee award was vacated and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Toy v. City of Rochester" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff The Skinny Pancake-Hanover, LLC, appealed superior court decisions to grant partial summary judgment to defendants, Crotix and James and Susan Rubens, on plaintiff’s breach of contract claim, and that dismissed plaintiff’s claim against defendants for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Plaintiff entered into a lease with defendants for a single unit in the Hanover Park Condominium building. The lease gave plaintiff the option to purchase its rental unit along with certain other units in the building. Less than a year later, plaintiff notified defendants it wanted to exercise its purchase option. Defendants “declined” plaintiff’s request, stating that plaintiff’s attempted exercise of the option was untimely under the terms of the agreement. Plaintiff sued; defendants answered, asserting the notice plaintiff sent regarding purchase of the rental unit was insufficient to trigger the option under the original lease agreement. Finding the superior court did not err in granting judgment in favor of defendants, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "The Skinny Pancake-Hanover, LLC v. Crotix" on Justia Law

by
Defendant David Vincelette appealed a the Superior Court decision finding that he committed criminal contempt by violating a January 2016 trial court order that prohibited him from interfering with the Town of Hanover’s efforts to remove debris from a right of way and Town-owned nature preserve. The Town-owned nature preserve was accessed by a deeded right of way that crossed land where defendant resided. In May 2015, the trial court found that the defendant had “placed numerous objects,” including wood pallets, abandoned vehicles, boats, and appliances on the nature preserve and on the right of way such that the right of way was “narrow[ed] . . . to such a width that it is difficult for a vehicle to access the [T]own’s property.” Defendant argued “[t]he court erred by finding that the State presented sufficient evidence that [he] intentionally violated the court’s order.” Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "New Hampshire v. Vincelette" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Richard Goode appealed a Superior Court order granting a petition to partition real property in Manchester, New Hampshire brought by plaintiff Evelyn Tarnawa. The parties were siblings; the received joint title to the property at issue under the will of their mother (the decedent), who died in 2009. Defendant had been living on the property with the decedent prior to her death, and, after her death, chose to continue living there. In 2010, plaintiff sent defendant a proposed agreement purporting to set forth defendant’s rights and responsibilities with respect to the property while he continued to reside there. Although some back-and-forth discussions took place between the parties, the agreement was never executed, and no evidence of any other agreement regarding the property was presented to the trial court. Defendant claimed to have made improvements to the property. Beginning in 2012, defendant failed to pay the property taxes in full. Plaintiff did not learn of this failure until she was notified by the City of Manchester in 2016. By December 2017, the amount owed for outstanding taxes, costs and interest was $33,803.13, with interest accruing at $11.17 per day. In 2016, plaintiff filed a petition for partition, requesting that the court order a sale of the property “and a division of the proceeds of the sale on an equitable basis, i.e. a deduction of all outstanding deficiencies from the Defendant’s share of the proceeds.” Defendant moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for summary judgment on the basis of res judicata and the decedent’s intent to devise the property to the parties as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. The trial court denied those motions and granted the petition to partition. Finding no reversible error in the superior court's judgment, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed partition. View "Tarnawa v. Goode" on Justia Law

by
This case centered on a property lease in Gilford, New Hampshire that included certain preemptive purchase rights (the Agreement). Plaintiffs Evan and Kelly Greenwald sought a declaration on the interpretation of the Agreement, whether it had been breached, and who was liable. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the Superior Court ruled in favor of defendants Barbara Keating, Jill Keating, Ellen Mulligan, and Barry and Chrysoula Uicker. The New Hampshire Supreme Court determined that central to the trial court’s decision was the interpretation of the Agreement - specifically paragraphs 18B and 18C. In the trial court’s view, the Agreement unambiguously required that Richard and Jill Keating intend to list the Mink Island property for sale, not merely intend to sell it, before plaintiffs’ rights under paragraph 18B were triggered. The court also concluded that paragraph 18B was unenforceable because it did not include an essential term: the purchase price. As for the right of first refusal under paragraph 18C, the trial court concluded that this provision was triggered only if the Keatings accepted an offer to purchase made by a third party after the Keatings had listed the property for sale. Thus, the trial court ruled that no breach occurred because the triggering condition - listing the property for sale - was never met. The Supreme Court concluded that because the meaning of the Agreement was ambiguous concerning whether listing the property was intended to be ministerial or substantive, the trial court erred in resolving this issue on summary judgment. The Court agreed with plaintiffs that the trial court erred in summarily concluding that Barbara could not be held liable under the Agreement because she held no ownership interest in the Mink Island property and could not otherwise be chargeable as an agent of Jill. The matter was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Greenwald et al. v. Keating et al." on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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