Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court

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Petitioner-claimant Jason Malo appealed a Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) decision reducing the rate at which his indemnity benefits were paid from the temporary total disability rate to the diminished earning capacity rate. On appeal, he argued that the CAB erred by: (1) finding that his physical condition had improved since he sustained the original, compensable, work-related injury; (2) determining that the change in his physical condition affected his earning capacity; and (3) failing to make specific findings of fact and rulings of law sufficient to allow meaningful appellate review. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Appeal of Jason Malo" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs William Weaver (individually and as administrator of the estate of his wife, Marceline Weaver) and James Sousa, appealed superior court decisions granting summary judgment in favor of defendants the Town of Pelham (Town), Pelham Police Chief Joseph Roark, Pelham Police Officer Derek Gioia (collectively, the Pelham defendants), and Woody’s Auto Repair & Towing, Inc. This case stemmed from an automobile accident allegedly caused by Randall Stewart, the owner and driver of a vehicle that collided with plaintiffs. With respect to the Pelham defendants, the superior court concluded they were not immune from suit under RSA chapter 507-B (2010) or under the common law, they were entitled to summary judgment because of the lack of evidence that they proximately caused the motor vehicle collision that resulted in the plaintiffs’ injuries. After review of that decision, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s finding that there was insufficient evidence that the Pelham defendants proximately caused the accident. Accordingly, the Court did not address the Pelham defendants’ cross-appeal on immunity. With regard to Woody's, the superior court granted summary judgment, concluding that: (1) because Stewart’s vehicle had been towed the night before the collision pursuant to RSA 262:32 (2014), rather than impounded pursuant to RSA 262:40 (2014), Woody’s was not required to obtain authorization from the police or a court prior to releasing the vehicle the next day to its owner; (2) Woody’s could not be liable for negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle because of the lack of evidence that a Woody’s employee knew, or should have known, that the owner was impaired when he picked up his vehicle from impound; and (3) given the absence of evidence demonstrating that Woody’s breached a duty owed to plaintiffs, it was not liable for negligence. The Supreme Court affirmed that judgment too. View "Weaver v. Stewart" on Justia Law

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Seventeen of the 20 plaintiffs to this case were Somali Bantu refugees who were resettled to the United States in 2004. Three of the plaintiffs were born in the United States to Somali Bantu refugees. Plaintiffs lived in the defendants’ apartments during 2005-2006, and those apartments were contaminated by lead paint, a known health hazard. Plaintiffs had elevated levels of lead in their blood. In their complaints, which were consolidated for discovery and trial, plaintiffs, through their parents, alleged that they were injured by their exposure to lead paint while living in defendants’ apartments. In this interlocutory appeal, plaintiffs challenged a superior court order granting the motion to exclude the expert testimony of Peter Isquith, Ph.D. After evaluating the 20 plaintiffs, Isquith, a clinical neuropsychologist, determined that 17 of them suffered from neurological deficits and opined that lead exposure was, more likely than not, a substantial factor in causing those deficits. The superior court excluded Isquith’s testimony based upon its determination that his testimony was not “the product of reliable principles and methods,” and its finding that he did not apply “the principles and methods reliably to the facts” of this case. The superior court certified a question to the Supreme Court: whether the trial court abused its discretion by excluding the expert's testimony. The Supreme Court found no reversible error in the trial court's order, and affirmed. View "Osman v. Lin" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Carlos Marti appealed a Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) decision to dismiss his claim for reinstatement to his job with respondent Nashua Foundries, Inc. Petitioner injured his elbow at work. He informed respondent’s president of his injury, was given an over-the-counter medication, and returned to work. Petitioner’s pain grew worse and, after approximately thirty minutes, he asked the president for permission to go to the local emergency room. The president refused the request, referring petitioner to an occupational health clinic pursuant to company policy and the collective bargaining agreement governing petitioner’s employment. Against the president’s directive, petitioner clocked out of work and went to the emergency room. He returned later with a doctor’s note for a four-day work absence, but was instead terminated for insubordination. Petitioner did not grieve his termination under the collective bargaining agreement. Respondent’s workers’ compensation insurer accepted the claim and paid petitioner’s medical bills. Petitioner requested a hearing on his claims for reinstatement and back pay; respondent moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. The CAB found that petitioner failed to challenge his termination by grieving it pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement. Respondent contended that because petitioner failed to grieve his termination, he could not challenge its legitimacy. The Supreme Court, after review, disagreed with respondent's contention: "[i]f this were correct, the petitioner would be considered to have been legitimately terminated for cause, and, under our interpretation of the statute herein, would not be an “employee” eligible for reinstatement under RSA 281-A:25-a, I. We cannot determine, however, whether the petitioner’s failure to grieve forecloses a challenge to his termination because the collective bargaining agreement is not contained in the record before us." Accordingly, the Court vacated and remanded for a determination on that issue and for further proceedings. View "Appeal of Carlos Marti" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Lynette Maryea was an inmate at the Strafford County House of Corrections. In January 2011, the County was transporting Maryea from the House of Corrections to the Federal District Court in Concord in an inmate transport van. Maryea rode handcuffed and shackled in the van’s back compartment, which was designated for inmates. The compartment had no seatbelts. During the drive, the van collided with Thomas Velardi’s vehicle, and Maryea sustained injuries. Maryea then brought negligence claims against Velardi and the County. In her negligence claim against the County, Maryea alleged that the County was liable for her injuries because the transport van was not equipped with seatbelts in the back compartment where she was required to be seated. Maryea appealed a Superior Court order ruling that defendant Strafford County was entitled to discretionary function immunity and granting the County’s motion for summary judgment in an action for damages arising out of an automobile accident. Maryea and Velardi eventually settled. The principal issue in this case was whether the provisions in RSA chapter 507-B waiving governmental immunity from tort liability arising out of, among other things, the operation of motor vehicles, abrogated the County’s common law discretionary function immunity. After review, the Supreme Court held that they do not, and, accordingly, affirmed. View "Maryea v. Velardi" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Raymond Cover appealed a New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board order denying his request for reinstatement to his former part-time position with the respondent, the New Hampshire Liquor Commission (Commission). Cover was a part-time employee of the Commission. In late May 2013, he sustained a work-related injury. The Commission sent him workers’ compensation forms on June 5 and warned him that he faced termination if he did not provide medical documentation by June 14 to justify his absence from work. On June 6, Cover gave the forms to his physician, who submitted them to the Commission on June 17, three days after the Commission’s deadline. Cover acknowledged that he did not submit any medical documentation to the Commission by June 14. On June 13, the Commission’s insurance carrier denied Cover’s workers’ compensation claim, stating that it had not received medical documentation concerning his injury. On June 17, the Commission terminated Cover’s employment. The board based its denial upon New Hampshire Administrative Rules, Lab 504.05(b)(3), which stated that part-time employees were ineligible for reinstatement under the Workers’ Compensation Law. On appeal, Cover argued that Lab 504.05(b)(3) conflicted with RSA 281-A:25-a and was therefore invalid. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that the plain language of RSA 281-A:25-a supported Cover’s argument that the right of reinstatement extended to part-time employees. "By stripping part-time employees of the right to reinstatement provided by RSA 281-A:25-a, the rule cannot be characterized as a rule that merely 'fill[s] in the details to effectuate the purpose of the statute.' Rather, the rule impermissibly modifies the statute and is therefore invalid." The Court vacated the board’s order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Appeal of Raymond Cover" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit certified a question of New Hampshire law to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. The question arose from a dispute between Old Republic Insurance Company and Stratford Insurance Company as to their respective coverage and defense obligations arising out of a motor vehicle accident involving their insureds. Old Republic and Stratford each provided insurance coverage for a tractor-trailer that collided with a passenger vehicle. The owner of the tractor, Ryder Truck Rentals, had purchased an insurance policy from Old Republic. DAM Express, a for-hire motor company, had leased the tractor from Ryder. Although, pursuant to the lease agreement, Ryder was responsible for obtaining liability insurance for the tractor, DAM also purchased a separate insurance policy from Stratford. When the collision occurred, the driver of the tractor-trailer was employed by DAM, and the trailer was owned by Coca-Cola. The question posed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court was whether, under New Hampshire law, when was an excess insurer’s duty to defend triggered? Did New Hampshire follow the general rule that the excess insurer’s duty to defend is triggered only when the primary insurer’s coverage is exhausted? If not, what rule as to allocation of defense costs and timing of payment did New Hampshire follow? The New Hampshire Court responded that under New Hampshire law, the excess insurer’s duty to defend is triggered only when the primary’s insurer’s coverage is exhausted. View "Old Republic Insurance Co. v. Stratford Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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In the summer of 2008, defendant Eli and Bessie Cohen Foundation, doing business as Cohen Camps, hired Michael Feld to serve as a counselor at Camp Tel Noar on Sunset Lake in Hampstead, as it had done the previous summer. Prior to employing him each summer, defendant performed a criminal background check on Feld, and each time his record was clear. During the beginning of his second summer at the camp, other counselors noticed a change in Feld's personality from the prior year, including that he was more outgoing and eccentric, and that he behaved inappropriately at times. Feld has suffered from bipolar disorder for years. Feld's father spoke with the camp director and informed him that Feld could become "manic" and should be taking his medication. On the evening of July 6, Feld and a group of counselors went to a doughnut shop. While there, Feld became increasingly agitated, expressed a desire to return to the camp, and began throwing away the other counselors' unfinished food and drinks in an attempt to compel them to leave. Upon their return to the camp around midnight, Feld’s roommate reported Feld’s behavior to the boys' head counselor. Feld and his roommate then conversed with one another in their room for several hours, during which time Feld’s behavior became increasingly erratic and he demonstrated mood swings, paranoid thoughts, and delusions of grandeur. At approximately 5:00 a.m., Feld forced his way into a private residence immediately adjacent to the camp. The homeowner's wife telephoned the police and Feld ran from the premises. Plaintiff Kathleen Boulter, a Hampstead police officer, was dispatched "to detain, question and/or arrest the suspect as a result of his alleged conduct, and to investigate the home invasion complaint." As the plaintiff was interviewing the homeowner, they observed Feld running down the road naked. Plaintiff ran after Feld, repeatedly telling him to "get down on the ground." When Feld charged at her, plaintiff discharged her taser, but Feld tackled her and began to strangle her, nearly causing her to lose consciousness. The homeowner knocked Feld off plaintiff and plaintiff locked herself and the homeowner in her police cruiser to wait for backup. Feld was subsequently apprehended following a struggle with the plaintiff and two other officers who had been called to the scene. Plaintiff sued defendant and Feld to recover for injuries she suffered as she was attempting to arrest Feld, alleging negligent, reckless, and intentional misconduct. All four of the counts in her writ that pertained to defendant were based upon the assertion that defendant owed plaintiff a duty of care. According to plaintiff, "as a direct, proximate, and foreseeable result of the negligence of the Defendant, . . . [she] sustained painful, serious and permanent injuries." Because the injury giving rise to plaintiff's negligence claims directly arose from the alleged "negligent conduct which created the particular occasion for [her] official engagement," the Supreme Court concluded that such claims were barred by the Firefighter's Rule. View "Boulter v. Eli & Bessie Cohen Foundation" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Kenneth England appealed a Superior Court order that dismissed his negligence action against defendant Maria Brianas. For several months in 2009, defendant and Allen Bryson had an intimate relationship, which ended when Bryson moved out of state. After Bryson returned to New Hampshire in 2010, he contacted defendant several times, attempting to resume their relationship; he "became enraged" when she refused. Although the defendant told Bryson that she did not believe that they were "compatible," he nevertheless persisted in an abrasive and angry manner. Plaintiff and defendant met during the summer of 2008 and later began socializing and communicating through text messages. Defendant never told plaintiff about her relationship with Bryson or his behavior after he returned to New Hampshire. On February 13, 2010, while they were together at the Eagles Club, defendant invited plaintiff to spend the night at her house. Both were unaware that Bryson had broken into defendant's house through the basement and was waiting for her to return home. When plaintiff left defendant's living room to get a drink in the kitchen, Bryson stabbed him multiple times, causing serious injuries. Plaintiff argued that the trial court should have found that special circumstances existed that would support a finding of a legal duty owed to him by defendant and, therefore, should have denied defendant's motion to dismiss. Defendant countered that the trial court was correct in granting her motion to dismiss because plaintiff's writ of summons did not allege special circumstances or a special relationship sufficient to impose a duty to warn or protect plaintiff from Bryson's assault. "[C]lose friends, neighbors and extended family [would] find themselves at risk of civil liability for situations they did not create and over which they exercise no control." Because the Supreme Court concluded that defendant did not owe plaintiff a duty to warn him "that she had a potentially dangerous stalker who had been harassing her," the Court upheld the Superior Court's grant of defendant's motion to dismiss. View "England v. Brianas" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, Diana Martinez (formerly Camire), appealed a Superior Court order granting summary judgment in favor of defendant The Gunstock Area Commission, on claims for damages for negligence and recklessness. Plaintiff, a snowboarder, visited Gunstock's ski and snowboard area. Posted on the wall of the ticket kiosk was a thirty-five inch by forty inch sign that recited, in part the language of RSA 225-A:24 and also stated: "By purchasing and/or affixing a ticket to use our facilities, you are agreeing to accept, as a matter of law, all inherent risks of winter sports activities and agree not to sue Gunstock for NEGLIGENCE or any other legal claim." In addition, the back of the lift ticket purchased by plaintiff included language stating that, as a condition of using the ski area, the purchaser or user of the ticket agreed to release Gunstock, and its employees and agents from any legal liability, including, but not limited to, claims for negligence. Plaintiff was injured when she was snowboarding on a ski trail and another snowboarder struck her from behind. The snowboarder was employed by Gunstock during the 2009-2010 season as a snowboard instructor. At the time of the collision, he was snowboarding prior to his scheduled 11:45 a.m. "lineup" in anticipation of a 12:00 p.m. lesson. Plaintiff sued Gunstock, asserting three counts based upon vicarious liability for the instructor's alleged negligent and reckless conduct, and one count alleging that Gunstock was directly liable for negligently hiring, training, and supervising the instructor. The trial court granted Gunstock's motion for summary judgment on all of the claims. On appeal, plaintiff argued that the trial court erred by determining that the liability releases barred her claims "in the absence of some evidence that [she] expressly agreed to [the] exculpatory language." She also contended that the trial court erred in finding that, as a matter of law, the instructor was not in Gunstock's employ at the time of the collision. She further asserted RSA 225-A:24, I, "[did] not bar recovery for [a ski area] operator's negligent supervision of its employees and the negligence of its agents in violation of their duties as employees." The Supreme Court concluded after review that RSA 225-A:24, I, barred plaintiff's vicarious liability claims as a matter of law, and that the trial court properly granted summary judgment to Gunstock on those claims. In light of this holding, we need not decide whether the instructor was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the collision or whether the claims are also barred by Gunstock's liability releases. View "Camire v. Gunstock Area Commission" on Justia Law