Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court
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Plaintiff Paul Martin appealed a superior court order denying his request for declaratory and injunctive relief against defendant City of Rochester (city), ruling that the city’s technical review group (TRG) was not a public body for purposes of New Hampshire's Right-to-Know Law, and that the city’s copy fee schedule was in compliance with RSA 91-A:4, IV (Supp. 2016). On appeal, plaintiff argued that: (1) the TRG was a “public body,” as defined by RSA 91-A:1-a, VI(d) (2013), because it was an “advisory committee,” and is therefore subject to the open-meeting requirement of RSA 91-A:2 (Supp. 2019); and (2) the city’s copy fee schedule was prohibited by RSA 91-A:4, IV, because it charged citizens requesting a copy of a public record more than the “actual cost” of making the copy. Plaintiff requested copies of certain documents from the city relating to the planning board and the TRG. The city charged a fee for making copies of city records or files: for black and white photocopies, the fee was fifty cents per page for the first ten pages and ten cents per page thereafter. After a bench trial, the court denied plaintiff’s prayers for relief. The New Hampshire Supreme Court disagreed with plaintiff's interpretation of RSA 91- A:1-a, I: plaintiff read the phrase "primary purpose" as relating only to the TRG’s role in “considering” an application, not necessarily “advising” on it. Under this reading, plaintiff contended the TRG’s primary purpose was to consider whatever “subject matter . . . the city manager has designated for consideration.” Further, the Supreme Court concurred with the superior court's finding that the City's fee for photocopying was based upon the actual cost of copying, and not the labor associated with making the copies. Accordingly, the trial court's judgment was affirmed. View "Martin v. City of Rochester" 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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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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Defendant Town of Bedford appealed a superior court order: (1) ruling that the statutory scheme governing a municipality’s obligations to compensate a former owner of property that the municipality acquired by the execution of a tax deed violated Part I, Article 12 of the New Hampshire Constitution; and (2) awarding plaintiff Richard Polonsky equitable relief. In 2008, plaintiff inherited property in Bedford. Plaintiff failed to pay his real estate taxes in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Consequently, tax liens were imposed on the property for each of those years. When plaintiff failed to redeem the property by paying the amount of the liens plus interest, the town tax collector issued a tax deed conveying the property to the Town on May 31, 2011. The Town did not take any action regarding the property until 2013, when it contacted plaintiff by telephone to advise him of the amount of back taxes, interest, costs, and penalties required to repurchase the property, and of the Town’s intention to sell the property by auction if he chose not to repurchase it. Plaintiff offered to pay back taxes but requested that the Town waive the additional charges, citing ongoing medical problems that began in 2009. The Town Council voted to reject plaintiff’s offer and began the sale process. Six months later, the Town formally noticed plaintiff of its intent to sell the property. Although plaintiff did not respond to the notice, the Town did not sell the property. In April 2015, plaintiff received another notice of the Town’s intent to sell the property, informing him of his right to repurchase. Plaintiff again offered to pay the amount of back taxes and interest, but requested that the Town waive the penalties. The Town rejected the offer. Through counsel, plaintiff twice requested for reconsideration. Then plaintiff filed suit, alleging, in part, that the Town’s intent to keep excess proceeds from an eventual sale of the property violated his “right to the equity in the subject property” under the state constitution. The New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the trial court, finding that RSA 80:89, VII extinguished a municipality’s duty to provide excess proceeds for the taking of his or her property by tax deed after three years from the date of the recording of the deed, without requiring that the municipality execute that duty; the statute’s three-year limitation upon the municipality’s duty to pay excess proceeds violated Part I, Article 12 of the New Hampshire Constitution. Because the Town acquired plaintiff’s property without providing compensation, the trial court did not err in awarding equitable relief to plaintiff. View "Polonsky v. Town of Bedford" on Justia Law

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Appellant Michael Guiney challenged a superior court declaratory judgment ruling the road between Guiney’s house and barn became a public highway by prescription. Guiney also appealed the trial court’s decision on his cross-claim against appellees David Nault, Joshua Nault, and Leigh Nault (the Naults), which upheld boundary lines and a 50-foot wide right-of-way (50-foot ROW) that appeared in a 1988 boundary line agreement (BLA) under the doctrines of boundary by acquiescence and estoppel by recitals in instruments. The relevant properties and Kelsea Road were located in Dunbarton. Guiney acquired his property (Lot 5) by deed dated March 30, 1999. David Nault purchased three lots (Lots 7, 8, and 9) to the west and north of Lot 5 between 1990 and 1998, and had a home on Lot 7. When Guiney purchased Lot 5, the deed described the boundaries of the property using the language that appeared in the BLA, including the 50-foot ROW in favor of Lot 7. In 2015, Guiney recorded a plan which illustrated the boundary lines of his property as they were described in the BLA. Nault was also aware of the BLA prior to purchasing Lot 7 and understood it to be binding upon him and all future owners of the affected pieces of property. Although he observed very little traffic near his house, Guiney observed plow trucks for the Town of Dunbarton (Town) plowing the disputed area during the winter and using space next to his barn to turn around and go back down Kelsea Road. Although Town trucks never graded the disputed area between Guiney’s house and barn, they used the space next to the barn to turn their trucks around when grading Kelsea Road. The present action was set in motion in 2006, when Guiney filed a petition against Nault to quiet title to a “driveway” Nault had constructed over Lot 5, and outside of the disputed area, to access Lots 8 and 9. The New Hampshire Supreme Court determined the evidence presented to the trial court supported a finding of public use, but not adverse public use, therefore, insufficient to support a finding of a public highway by prescription. The Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s finding that Kelsea Road spurred west between Guiney’s house and barn; affirmed the trial court’s finding that the boundaries between Lot 5 and Lot 7 were established by acquiescence; and affirmed the trial court’s finding that Guiney was judicially estopped from denying the existence of the 50-foot ROW outlined in the BLA. View "Town of Dunbarton v. Guiney" on Justia Law

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Claimant Elizabeth Doody worked for the Laconia School District as an elementary school speech assistant for over a decade. Her job required her to accompany students from their location to a special services room as well as to supervise a locked side entrance door at the beginning of the school day when students arrive and at the end of the school day when they depart. Of the school’s 300 students, approximately 125 students typically used the side entrance, which consisted of an outside concrete area, an exterior door that accessed a small atrium with a floor mat, and an interior door that accessed the corridor. In winter weather, the outside concrete area was treated with sand and ice melt product. On April 18, 2017, Claimant fell twice while walking down the corridor toward the side entrance, once at approximately 8:30 a.m. and again at approximately 3:00 p.m. Both falls occurred in the same location. The morning fall did not injure Claimant, but the afternoon fall fractured her right arm, which had to be repaired surgically. Claimant was taken out of work by one of her doctors the day after the injury and was released to part-time work with modifications. Because the District was unable to accommodate the restrictions, Claimant remained out of work until school resumed in the fall. Despite the surgery and a subsequent course of physical therapy, Claimant remained unable to lift her right hand over her head and continued to experience pain. Claimant appealed a New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) decision to deny her claim for indemnity benefits and payment of medical bills. The parties disputed whether Claimant’s injury arose out of her employment. Because the New Hampshire Supreme Court determined the CAB misapplied the applicable law with respect to on-the-job injuries, and because applying that test required further fact-finding, it vacated the CAB’s decision and remanded for further factual findings and for the correct application of the “increased-risk test” to those facts. View "Appeal of Elizabeth Doody" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff James Boyle, individually and as Trustee of the 150 Greenleaf Avenue Realty Trust, appealed, and defendant City of Portsmouth (City), cross-appealed, after a jury awarded Boyle damages for trespass and nuisance arising from the City’s sewer line on his property. On appeal, Boyle contended the trial court erred in: (1) determining as a matter of law that the City’s trespass began in 2013; and (2) excluding all evidence of future lost profits after 2016. The City argued the trial court erred in: (1) permitting Boyle’s lost profits claims to go to the jury and refusing to set aside the jury’s award; and (2) determining that the City did not have permanent rights in the sewer line. After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling that the City had only a revocable license in the sewer line, reversed, in part, the court’s rulings concerning the timing of Boyle’s damages, reversed the court’s ruling on Boyle’s lost profits claim and vacated the jury award, and remanded. View "Boyle v. City of Portsmouth" on Justia Law