Justia Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court
Balzotti Global Group, LLC v. Shepherds Hill Proponents, LLC
Plaintiffs Balzotti Global Group, LLC (the Global Group) and Caesar Balzotti, Sr., appealed a superior court order dismissing their claims against defendants Shepherds Hill Proponents, LLC (Proponents), Shepherds Hill Development Company, LLC (Development Company), Shepherds Hill Homeowners Association, Inc. (Association), Ralph Caruso, and Ernest J. Thibeault, III, on the ground that their claims were time-barred. At some point before 1999, the Development Company obtained approval to construct 400 condominium units. After work had begun on the project, the real estate market collapsed, and the Development Company filed for bankruptcy. Balzotti, Caruso, and Thibeault proposed to reorganize the Development Company so that the project could be completed and creditors could be paid. Their proposal included creating the Proponents, a limited liability company in which Caruso, Thibeault and Balzotti would have an interest. The bankruptcy court accepted the proposal as the reorganization plan in 2000. In 2003, the Development Company established the Shepherds Hill Condominium by recording a declaration of condominium with the county registry of deeds. The Development Company amended the declaration, setting a deadline for the conversion of Units located within the "convertible land." Between February 26, 2003, and July 6, 2009, the Development Company periodically exercised its right to build new condominium units on convertible land. However, by July 6, 2009, only 274 out of the possible 400 units had been constructed. Balzotti opened an involuntary bankruptcy proceeding on Development Company, the Proponents, and Thibeault when they missed payments on a promissory note issued as part of the original bankruptcy plan. By 2011, pursuant to the original condominium declaration, the Association was governed by a board elected by the condominium unit owners. The Development Company unsuccessfully attempted to amend the condominium declaration to obtain rights to develop the remaining land and unfinished units remaining prior to the association taking control. By 2018, plaintiffs sued the Development Company, Proponents, Caruso and Thibeault, asserting a number of claims arising out of the Development Company's loss of the Development Right. Defendants successfully argued plaintiffs' claims were time-barred because they were brought more than three years after the Development Right was lost. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not err in concluding plaintiffs' claims were time barred. View "Balzotti Global Group, LLC v. Shepherds Hill Proponents, LLC" on Justia Law
O’Donnell v. Allstate Indemnity Company
Plaintiff John O’Donnell appealed a superior court order granting summary judgment to defendant Allstate Indemnity Company. Following a November 2015 motor vehicle accident, O’Donnell filed an underinsured motorist claim under a personal umbrella insurance policy that he had purchased from Allstate. Allstate denied the claim. O’Donnell then filed this declaratory judgment action to determine whether his policy provided uninsured motorist coverage. The trial court concluded that O’Donnell’s policy did not provide uninsured motorist coverage, finding that a written waiver of uninsured motorist coverage that O’Donnell had executed in September 2011 remained in effect at the time of the accident. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "O'Donnell v. Allstate Indemnity Company" on Justia Law
Fortune Laurel, LLC v. High Liner Foods (USA), Incorporated, Trustee
Yunnan New Ocean Aquatic Product Science and Technology Group Co., Ltd. and subsidiaries (YOK defendants) appealed a New Hampshire superior court order attaching funds held by High Liner Foods (USA), Inc. (High Liner USA), the trustee defendant. The YOK defendants argued the trial court erred by maintaining quasi in rem jurisdiction over the funds despite concluding that it lacked personal jurisdiction over them in the underlying action. In 2012, Fortune Laurel, LLC, a Massachusetts company, entered into contracts with the YOK defendants to broker the sale of fish processed by the YOK defendants to companies in the United States and Canada. One company was located in Massachusetts, (later acquired by a Canadian company, High Liner Foods, Inc. (Canada)). High Liner Canada rebranded its corporate acquisition High Liner Foods (USA) and moved to Portsmouth. High Liner USA solicited fish from High Liner Canada, which procured the fish from international sellers, including the YOK defendants. The YOK defendants shipped the fish to High Liner USA in Massachusetts or Virginia. Upon High Liner USA’s acceptance of the fish, the YOK defendants invoiced High Liner USA and the invoice was paid by High Liner Canada, which then invoiced High Liner USA. After the written contract between Fortune Laurel and the YOK defendants expired, the YOK defendants continued to use Fortune Laurel to broker its sales with High Liner USA until 2017, when “the YOK defendants decided to exclude [Fortune Laurel] from the relationship.” Fortune Laurel claimed that the YOK defendants failed to pay commissions in 2017, improperly caused High Liner Canada to revoke its access to High Liner’s online tracking system, sold it fish for resale in Massachusetts that failed to meet applicable standards, and made fraudulent insurance claims that have negatively affected its business. Fortune Laurel also filed a petition for an ex parte attachment of funds that High Liner USA owed YOK as payment for shipments. The trial court found that several of Fortune Laurel’s claims were “wholly unrelated” to New Hampshire and thus that “dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction was appropriate.” Nonetheless, the trial court ruled that it could continue to exercise quasi in rem jurisdiction over the attached funds. The New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed because the trial court’s limited exercise of jurisdiction over the attached funds comported with due process requirements. View "Fortune Laurel, LLC v. High Liner Foods (USA), Incorporated, Trustee" on Justia Law
Zannini v. Phenix Mutual Fire Insurance Company
Plaintiffs Steve and Pamela Zannini, appealed a superior court order granting summary judgment to defendant Phenix Mutual Fire Insurance Company, on plaintiffs’ breach of contract and declaratory judgment claims. In March 2016, the plaintiffs’ Ashland, New Hampshire residence sustained “significant flooding” as the result of burst pipes. The house was insured by defendant, and plaintiffs filed a claim for water damage. Defendant sent an adjuster to investigate, who instructed plaintiffs to remove the floor of the house so that he could investigate the area underneath. After they did so, the house began to collapse, and plaintiffs repaired its framing to prevent it from collapsing completely. As a result of removing the floor, plaintiffs “suffered a complete loss [of the house] and direct physical loss of [their] personal property and use of the [house] for a substantial amount of time.” On May 3, 2016, defendant sent the plaintiffs a letter denying coverage of the damage caused by the collapse. Plaintiffs argued on appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court that: (1) a provision in the insurance policy at issue requiring that suits be brought within one year of the date of loss was unenforceable because it violated public policy; and (2) genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether defendant’s communications tolled the one-year period, and defendant was estopped from asserting or waived it as a defense. The Supreme Court affirmed, finding the one-year limitation period did not violate the public policy underlying statutes of limitations. Further, the communications between the parties did not create issues of material fact as to whether the one- year period was tolled or whether the defendant waived or was otherwise estopped from asserting the provision as a defense. View "Zannini v. Phenix Mutual Fire Insurance Company" on Justia Law
Hoyle, Tanner & Associates, Inc. v. 150 Realty, LLC
Defendants, 150 Realty, LLC and Harbour Links Estates, LLC, appeal superior court orders denying their motions to dismiss or stay actions filed by plaintiffs, Hoyle, Tanner & Associates, Inc. (HTA), McLean Communications, LLC (McLean), and At Comm Corporation. Plaintiffs leased commercial space located at 150 Dow Street in Manchester, New Hampshire. Their tenancies commenced between 1992 and 2001, after they entered into separate lease agreements with the property owner, One Dow Court, Inc. (ODC). The lease agreements allotted each plaintiff a specific number of parking spaces adjacent to the 150 Dow Street building and allowed plaintiffs to use additional spaces in other parking areas. Each agreement also provided that “lessee’s parking rights are subject to lessor’s reasonable rules and regulations.” The trial court ruled that plaintiffs’ claims relating to defendants’ imposition of certain parking rules and fees did not fall within the scope of identical arbitration clauses included in each of the plaintiffs’ lease agreements. The trial court also granted partial summary judgment to HTA and McLean on their declaratory judgment claims, concluding that defendants’ parking rules that assess fees for certain parking spaces were unenforceable. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hoyle, Tanner & Associates, Inc. v. 150 Realty, LLC" on Justia Law
The Skinny Pancake-Hanover, LLC v. Crotix
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
Greenwald et al. v. Keating et al.
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
Pro Done, Inc. v. Basham
Plaintiff Pro Done, Inc. appealed a superior court order dismissing its amended complaint against defendants Teresa Basham, individually and as non-independent trustee of the Paul R. Hooper 1998 GST Exempt Trust, Terrence Hooper, Timothy Hooper, and John Ransmeier, trustee of the Paul R. Hooper 1997 Trust, for breach of contract, tortious interference with contractual relations, and civil conspiracy. Specifically, plaintiff challenged the trial court’s ruling that an alleged violation of a certain contractual provision did not provide a basis for plaintiff’s claims. After their father's death, defendant each received a portion of their father’s one-third ownership interest in three companies known as the Pro-Cut entities, to be held in trust by John Ransmeier. In 2012, the sibling defendants negotiated with Joseph Willey, another owner of the Pro-Cut entities, to sell their ownership interests. They eventually agreed upon a sale price, and in November 2013, Ransmeier, on the sibling defendants’ behalf, executed fifteen Securities Redemption Agreements (SRAs) with the Pro-Cut entities, the terms of which were stated to be binding upon “the heirs, personal representatives, successors and assigns of the parties.” After these transactions, one of the Pro-Cut entities, Brake Solutions, Inc., acquired another Pro-Cut entity. It then changed its name to Pro-Cut International, Inc. In May 2014, three unrelated companies, collectively known as Snap-on, purchased the Pro-Cut entities. Pro-Cut was renamed Pro Done, Inc. Plaintiff alleged it was a successor to the Pro-Cut entities. After Snap-on’s purchase of the Pro-Cut entities, the sibling defendants filed a lawsuit, with the assistance of Ransmeier, in federal district court, against Willey and trustees of trusts that were members of the Pro-Cut entities at the time of the Snap-on transaction. Plaintiff thereafter filed the underlying lawsuit to this appeal. Its central arguments were mainly the trial court erred by ignoring express terms of the release agreements - in which the defendants “covenant[ed] not to sue and otherwise agree[d] not to enforce any claim” against the plaintiff - and denied the plaintiff the opportunity to seek consequential damages for breach of the contract, contrary to New Hampshire law. The parties’ arguments presented a question of first impression for this the New Hampshire Supreme Court: whether New Hampshire law recognized a cause of action for breach of contract based upon a covenant not to sue where the contract did not expressly provide that the non-breaching party was entitled to consequential damages for breach of the covenant. The Court held that it did, reversed the trial court, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Pro Done, Inc. v. Basham" on Justia Law
TS & A Motors, LLC v. Kia Motors America, Inc.
In December 2007, Kia Motors America, Inc. (Kia) and TS & A Motors, LLC d/b/a Kia of Somersworth (Somersworth) entered into a Dealer Sales and Service Agreement (Dealer Agreement), which governed the franchise relationship between the parties. Under this agreement, Somersworth was required to employ certain parts and service personnel. In 2011 and Kia sent a series of letters notifying Somersworth of perceived staffing and training deficiencies. These letters referenced Somersworth’s failure to meet technician training requirements in 2009 and 2010, to adequately staff and train personnel in its parts and service department, and to meet the minimum number of technicians required to participate in Kia’s “Optima Hybrid Program.” During Somersworth’s tenure as a dealer, Kia employees overseeing Somersworth made note of its high employee turnover rates. The Board determined that over the course of its operations as a dealer, Somersworth violated the provision of the Dealer Agreement that required certain parts and service personnel “on an almost constant basis.” Kia management worked with Somersworth to remedy its staffing deficiencies. It sent numerous written notifications to Somersworth referencing the inadequacy of its parts and service staffing, met with Somersworth to discuss its concerns over staffing, and gave Somersworth the “benefit of the doubt” when the dealer promised to hire the appropriate number of staff members. Somerset appealed a superior court decision to affirm a New Hampshire Motor Vehicle Industry Board ruling that Kia properly terminated its franchise agreement with Somersworth. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the Board's decision. View "TS & A Motors, LLC v. Kia Motors America, Inc." on Justia Law
Santos v. Metropolitan Property & Casualty Ins. Co.
Defendant Metropolitan Property and Casualty Insurance Company (Metropolitan), appealed a superior court order partially granting and partially denying its summary judgment motion as well as a cross-motion filed by plaintiff Joseph Santos. Santos held a personal excess liability policy with Metropolitan that included excess underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. After Metropolitan denied a claim made by Santos for excess UIM benefits after Santos was hurt in a motorcycle accident, he brought this declaratory judgment action. The trial court ruled that Metropolitan was liable to Santos for excess UIM benefits. Metropolitan argued the trial court erred in so holding because Santos’s policy required, as a precondition to receiving excess UIM benefits, that he carry a certain amount of underlying insurance coverage, and Santos did not do so. Santos argued his lack of sufficient underlying coverage allowed Metropolitan to reduce its excess UIM liability but not escape it altogether. Finding no error in the superior court's judgment, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed partial summary judgment. View "Santos v. Metropolitan Property & Casualty Ins. Co." on Justia Law