Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court

by
In this declaratory judgment proceeding, petitioner Exeter Hospital, Inc. (Exeter) appealed a superior court order denying its motion for partial summary judgment as to the amount at which coverage was triggered under an umbrella policy (the policy) issued to Exeter by respondent Steadfast Insurance Company (Steadfast). In the spring of 2012, an outbreak of Hepatitis C infections among patients serviced by Exeter’s cardiac catheterization lab led investigators to discover that a technician had spread the virus to patients “through a clandestine drug diversion scheme.” The technician allegedly injected certain drugs into his body by way of intravenous needles, then reused the needles on patients, thereby infecting them with the virus. Numerous lawsuits were lodged against Exeter by affected patients. Exeter was primarily insured through a Self-Insurance Trust Agreement (SIT), which provided professional liability coverage in the amount of $1 million per medical incident, with a $4 million annual aggregate cap. Exeter also maintained the policy with Steadfast, which provided excess health care professional liability coverage. Steadfast maintained that it would pay damages only in excess of the $100,000 retained limit for each medical incident. Exeter filed this proceeding, seeking a declaration that it was not required to pay $100,000 retained limit per claim. The trial court interpreted the term “applicable underlying limit” as being a variable amount “dependent on the actual coverage remaining under [the] other [limits of] insurance,” here, the limits of the SIT. Because Exeter had paid out the limits of the SIT, the court found that the “applicable underlying limit” was zero, thereby rendering the $100,000 retained limit greater than the “applicable underlying limit.” Thus, the court determined that, pursuant to “Coverage A,” Steadfast was required “to pay damages in excess of $100,000 for each medical incident.” Exeter sought reconsideration of the court’s order, which the court denied. Although the New Hampshire Supreme Court did not agree with every underlying argument pressed by Exeter, it concluded that its overall argument regarding the interpretation of Coverage A was reasonable, and the trial court therefore erred in granting partial summary judgment as to the terms of Coverage A. View "Exeter Hospital, Inc. v. Steadfast Insurance Company" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Fat Bullies Farm, LLC (Fat Bullies), and the counterclaim defendants, Donald Gould and Peter Simmons, appealed certain superior court findings and rulings made during the course of litigation with defendants Alan and Donna Perkins and Lori and Bret Devenport, involving the sale of a 3.1 acre horse farm in North Hampton known as Runnymede Farm. When the Devenports purchased the property in 1998, they promised to operate it as a horse farm in perpetuity, and to allow the former owner to maintain an office on site. Simmons told the Devenports that he was interested in purchasing the property. The Devenports told Simmons they would only sell if the buyer agreed to the horse farm and on site office conditions. Simmons spoke with Gould about purchasing the property jointly with the intent to develop and/or resell it. The two created Fat Bullies “for the purpose of acquiring real estate for development or resale.” After amendments to the purchase contract, the Devenports reiterated that they would sell the property only if Fat Bullies committed to operating it as a horse farm. Despite their intentions to develop the property, Simmons and Gould agreed. The parties executed a sales agreement. No payment had been made on the property; word got back to Lori Devenport that Simmons had talked to others in North Hampton about purchasing the farm. The Devenports rescinded the agreement, believing Simmons lied to them about promising to operate Runnymede as a horse farm. Fat Bullies invoked an option, but the Devenports refused to sell. In 2011, the Devenports sold Runnymede to the Perkinses. After trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Devenports on Fat Bullies’ breach of contract claim, finding that Fat Bullies failed to prove the existence of a contract by a preponderance of the evidence, and a verdict in favor of Fat Bullies, Simmons, and Gould on the Devenports’ fraudulent inducement claim. The New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed the trial court with respect to a Consumer Protection Act violation decision; the Court reversed with respect to attorney fees related to that Act decision. The Court affirmed in all other respects, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Fat Bullies Farm, LLC v. Devenport" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Holloway Automotive Group (Holloway) appealed a circuit court order ruling that the liquidated damages clause contained in the parties’ contract was unenforceable. Holloway was an authorized franchisee of Mercedes-Benz North America. Defendant Steven Giacalone purchased a new vehicle from Holloway. At the time of the purchase, the defendant signed an “AGREEMENT NOT TO EXPORT:” “MBUSA prohibits its authorized dealers from exporting new Mercedes-Benz vehicles outside of the exclusive sales territory of North America and will assess charges against [Holloway] for each new Mercedes-Benz vehicle it sells . . . which is exported from North America within one (1) year.” By signing the agreement, defendant promised “not [to] export the Vehicle outside North America . . . for a period of one (1) year” from the date of the Agreement and, if he did so, to pay Holloway $15,000 as liquidated damages. The vehicle was subsequently exported within the one-year period. Holloway sued claiming breach of contract and misrepresentation and seeking liquidated damages in the amount of $15,000, plus interest, costs, and attorney’s fees. The trial court found that the Agreement was entered into “between the parties to protect [Holloway] from a claim by [MBUSA],” but that MBUSA did not, in fact, charge Holloway any fees despite the vehicle having been exported. The trial court declined to enforce the liquidated damages clause in the agreement. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that the $15,000 liquidated damages provision was enforceable because Holloway’s damages resulting from the breach were not “easily ascertainable.” Accordingly, the Court held the trial court’s determination that the liquidated damages provision in the parties’ Agreement was unenforceable was not supported by the record and was erroneous as a matter of law. View "Holloway Automotive Group v. Giacalone" on Justia Law

by
Defendants, Markel Corporation, Markel Services, Inc. (Markel Services), and Essex Insurance Company (Essex), appealed a superior court order denying their motions for summary judgment and granting summary judgment to plaintiff Michael Newell, in this insurance coverage action. Newell was allegedly injured in a slip and fall accident at a property owned by Brames, Inc. (Brames) in Laconia. Brames was insured under an Amusement Park General Liability Policy issued by Essex. Essex was a subsidiary of Markel Corporation and Markel Services was Markel Corporation’s claims handling branch. Newell filed two personal injury actions arising from his slip and fall. The first action against Brames' co-owner and treasurer, was settled out-of-court. In the second lawsuit, Newell sued Ivy Banks, the person who allegedly cleaned the floor upon which Newell slipped and injured himself. Defendants received notice of the Banks action, but declined to defend Banks or intervene. Banks, although properly served, filed neither an appearance nor an answer and was defaulted. A default judgment was entered against Banks for $300,000, the full amount of damages sought by Newell. Newell brought suit against defendants to recover the amount of the default judgment, arguing he was a third party beneficiary under the insurance contract between Brames and Markel/Essex. On appeal, defendants argued the trial court erred in determining that the language of the Policy was ambiguous and that Banks was a “volunteer worker” under the Policy. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed denial of defendants' motion for summary judgment. View "Newell v. Markel Corporation" on Justia Law

by
Steven Cohen met John Raymond when Raymond began dating Cohen’s stepdaughter, Molly, whom Raymond eventually married. Cohen owned a successful scrap metal company and offered Raymond a job. Cohen knew a broker and private wealth manager at Merrill Lynch, and Cohen testified that he wanted to help Raymond learn about investment through that broker. To set up an investment account, Merrill Lynch required a minimum deposit of $250,000. Cohen deposited this amount into an account in Raymond’s name, later testifying at trial that he considered the money to be “seed money” for a business that he planned to open with Raymond. Although Raymond testified that he never intended to go into business with Cohen, the trial court found that “the parties had decided to enter the recycling business together.” Raymond and Molly decided to divorce. Raymond then withdrew $50,000 from the Merrill Lynch account, which he used for “personal purposes.” Upon learning of the divorce and withdrawal, Cohen demanded that Raymond repay him the $250,000, and then sued Raymond in superior court. Cohen claimed that the money was a loan, and that he was entitled to repayment with interest at 5% or 6%. In the alternative, Cohen claimed that Raymond had been unjustly enriched, and that he was entitled to restitution. In his argument on unjust enrichment, Cohen suggested, for the first time, that the $250,000 was a conditional gift. Cohen, appealed the trial court’s ruling that the $250,000 deposited into the investment account was an unconditional gift. Cohen argued, among other things, that the trial court erred by: (1) finding that the $250,000 was an unconditional gift, rather than a loan or a conditional gift; and (2) presuming that the $250,000 was a gift, thereby placing the burden on Cohen to show that it was not a gift. The New Hampshire Supreme Court vacated and remanded: Raymond was Cohen’s son-in-law, thus, the gift presumption did not apply, and the burden should have been on Raymond to prove that Cohen intended to give him the $250,000 as a gift. View "Cohen v. Raymond" on Justia Law

by
Appellant, Century Indemnity Company (CIC) appealed a Superior Court order that granted Respondent Roger Sevigny, Commissioner of Insurance and Liquidator of the Home Insurance Company (Home) an award of statutory prejudgment interest on certain monies owed to Home by CIC. Home is an insurance company, organized under the laws of New Hampshire, which was declared insolvent and placed in liquidation in 2003. CIC is an insurance company organized under the laws of Pennsylvania. CIC and Home have a set of co-insurance and reinsurance relationships. In prior litigation, the Supreme Court held that an asserted $8 million setoff claim by CIC, which had been waived and then reacquired by CIC in a pair of settlement agreements with PECO, was impermissible under New Hampshire law. The New Hampshire Court explicitly declined, without prejudice, to decide the issue at issue here: whether Home’s estate was entitled to prejudgment interest on the payments CIC wrongfully withheld based upon setoff. The Court denied CIC’s motion for reconsideration in the "Home IV" appeal; after remand, the Liquidator filed a motion in superior court for interest on amounts withheld by CIC based upon improper setoff, to which CIC objected. CIC removed the PECO setoff from its monthly statement to Home and paid the previously withheld $8 million to the Liquidator. The trial court entered an order granting the motion and finding that Home was entitled to prejudgment statutory interest under RSA 524:1-a (2007) accruing from October 2007 (the date of the Liquidator’s letter notifying CIC of his determination to disallow the PECO setoff). This appeal followed. Finding no reversible error in the Superior Court's order, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "In the Matter of the Rehabilitation of the Home Insurance Company" on Justia Law

by
Defendant, Suzynne D. Cumminngs and S.D. Cummings & Co., PC, appealed a Superior Court order awarding $44,403 to plaintiffs, Robert Audette and his company, H&S Construction Services, LLC (H&S), for breach of contract. Defendants provided various accounting and business services to Audette and his then-partner, Paul Fogarty, including helping them to start their construction business partnership, as well as preparing tax returns for both the business and Audette and Fogarty personally. In 2007, defendants helped Audette and Fogarty dissolve their partnership. One of the final acts defendants worked on for H&S was the placement of a mechanic's lien on a property on which H&S worked: the municipality halted construction on the project when H&S was approximately ninety-five percent complete. The lien placed on the property was for $44,403. Ultimately, plaintiffs’ 120-day statutory lien had not been timely secured or recorded, therefore it had lapsed. Plaintiffs brought suit against defendants in November 2009 for failing to secure the lien. The trial court found for plaintiffs and awarded damages in the amount of $44,403. Finding no error in the Superior Court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Audette & v. Cummings" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Victor Virgin Construction Corporation appealed a Superior Court remitting a jury award following an advisory jury finding of breach of contract and negligent misrepresentation by defendant New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT). DOT cross-appealed, asking that the award be further reduced. In 2008, Virgin bid on a DOT project to replace a stone box culvert located underneath Depot Road in Hollis. Virgin submitted the lowest bid and was awarded the contract. After completion of the project, DOT paid Virgin the sum agreed to in the contract with only a minor upward adjustment. Virgin sued DOT for both breach of contract and negligent misrepresentation. The trial court denied DOT's request to bifurcate the trial; subsequently the jury found in favor of Virgin. DOT then moved for a new trial or to set aside the jury's damages award. The trial court granted remittitur, but did no enter a finding of liability on the breach of contract claim, finding that the award could only be sustained on the negligent misrepresentation claim. Virgin then appealed, seeking the full amount of damages awarded by the jury. The Supreme Court found that Virgin's negligent misrepresentation claim for money damages was capped by statute, therefore it was not entitled to the full amount of damages originally awarded by the jury. That cap does not apply to breach of contract, however, and because the trial court did not include findings with regard to liability on the breach of contract claim, the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Victor Virgin Construction Corp. v. New Hampshire Dep't of Transportation" on Justia Law

by
At issue before the Supreme Court was an Asset Purchase Agreement. Portsmouth Regional Hospital was sold to the Hospital Corporation of America. A dispute arose over the meaning of certain terms and clauses in the purchase agreement. The Foundation for Seacoast Health sought to "repurchase" the hospital's tangible assets under certain conditions. The dispute arose when the Foundation sought to assert that right. The Foundation appealed the trial court’s determination that the clause under dispute in this case was intended to give the Foundation a right to purchase the Hospital only in the event of a sale to a third party. The Foundation argued that because of this error, the trial court also erred by failing to: (1) order specific performance of the Foundation’s contractual right to purchase the Hospital; (2) award monetary damages for the defendants’ material breach; and (3) award attorney’s fees for the remedy proceeding. Upon review of the contract in question, the Supreme Court affirmed all but the trial court’s attorney’s fee award. View "Foundation for Seacoast Health v. Hospital Corporation of America" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Robin Plaisted appealed a superior court order that dismissed her case against defendant Jeffrey LaBrie as untimely. The issue between the parties stemmed from the contract to sell real estate. Plaintiff wrote, and the defendant cashed, a check made out to "Jeff LaBrie" in the amount of $19,500. The check noted that it was "[f]rom R. Plaisted for full payment for 50% of 10 Nelson [Street] Property." Defendant, as president of Blue Star, signed a "Declaration of Ownership" stating that Blue Star granted to the plaintiff a fifty percent interest in the property. Two years later, Blue Star sold the property for a profit of $98,855.97 and wired the proceeds to a bank account "[f]or the benefit of Blue Star Consulting (Jeff LaBrie)." Plaintiff petitioned the trial court, seeking a declaration that she had been a one-half owner of the property, as well as an order requiring the defendant to pay her one-half of the sale proceeds. Finding no error in the trial court's determination that plaintiff's suit was time barred, the Supreme Court affirmed dismissal. View "Plaisted v. LaBrie" on Justia Law