Justia Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court
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
Atronix, Inc. v. Morris
Plaintiff Atronix, Inc. filed suit against defendant Kenneth Morris for, among other things, breach of contract, and sued defendant Scott Electronics, Inc. for tortious interference with contractual relations. Atronix appealed a superior court’s order dismissing its action for lack of standing. Morris started working at Atronix Sales, Inc. (Old Atronix) in 1982. He was promoted several times over the course of his employment, eventually becoming program manager in the sales department. That position entailed responsibility for the largest and most important of Old Atronix’s accounts. Accordingly, in 1997, Morris was required to sign a non-compete and non-solicitation agreement (the non-compete agreement), and a non-disclosure agreement. In 2011, Old Atronix merged with Atronix, Inc. (the Company). In 2016, Morris left his job with plaintiff and was hired as a general manager by Scott, one of the Company’s competitors. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the terms of Morris’ non-compete agreement was conveyed to the Company according to the terms of its asset purchase agreement, it was still pertinent to the success of the merger. The Company, therefore, had standing to enforce it against Morris. View "Atronix, Inc. v. Morris" on Justia Law
Grand Summit Hotel Condominium Unit Owners’ Association v. L.B.O. Holding, Inc.. d/b/a Attitash Mountain Resort
Plaintiff Grand Summit Hotel Condominium Unit Owners’ Association (Association), filed claims against defendant L.B.O. Holding, Inc. d/b/a Attitash Mountain Resort (Attitash), arising from Attitash’s alleged failure to maintain a cooling tower at the Grand Summit Hotel and Conference Center (Condominium) in Bartlett. Attitash moved to dismiss the Association’s claims, arguing that they were barred by a provision, which required arbitration of certain disputes, in a management agreement between the parties. The trial court denied Attitash’s motion to dismiss, ruling that the Association’s claims fell outside of the scope of the provision. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Grand Summit Hotel Condominium Unit Owners' Association v. L.B.O. Holding, Inc.. d/b/a Attitash Mountain Resort" on Justia Law
Slania Enterprises, Inc. v. Appledore Medical Group, Inc.
Plaintiff Slania Enterprises, Inc. appealed a superior court decision to grant defendant Appledore Medical Group, Inc.’s motion to dismiss as time-barred a petition to recover damages stemming from an alleged breach of a commercial real estate lease. In October 2012, Slania, as the lessor, and Appledore, as the lessee, entered into a commercial real estate lease for an initial fixed term that ended on April 30, 2015. However, Appledore never took possession of the premises. Appledore paid rent due through January 2013, but then stopped doing so. In March 2013, Appledore communicated to Slania that it wished to terminate the lease. On April 12, 2013, Slania notified Appledore that it was in default on its rental payments. Appledore did not pay. On April 22, 2013, at the expiration of a 10-day cure period, Slania notified Appledore that, pursuant to Section 13.1(b) of the lease, it was electing, as its remedy upon default, to “keep the lease in effect and recover rent and other charges due [from Appledore] less the amount [Slania] may recover by re[-]letting the premises.” Slania re-let the premises from February 2015 through the end of the initial term of the lease, April 2015, for a lesser monthly amount. Approximately one year later, Slania filed a breach of contract action against Appledore for $82,527.87 in damages, which included rent, late fees, and utility costs due from May 2013 through April 2015. Appledore moved to dismiss, asserting that because the lease was breached no later than April 22, 2013, the claim was barred by a three-year statute of limitations. Slania objected, arguing that the lease was an installment contract, and, therefore, the statute of limitations did not bar a suit to recover payments due within three years of the date the complaint was filed. The trial court granted Appledore’s motion to dismiss, ruling that, because “a real estate lease of the type involved here is not an installment contract as that term is contemplated in the statute of limitations context,” the so-called “installment contract rule,” under which the statute of limitations runs only against each installment when it becomes due, did not apply. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded commercial real estate leases did not fall outside the bounds of the installment contract rule, and reversed the trial court’s contrary ruling. In rejecting Slania’s assertion that it could elect to keep the lease in place and sue for breaches that occurred within three years of the date it filed suit, the trial court did not mention anticipatory repudiation or material breach. The Supreme Court found this case raised issues of first impression regarding the interplay of the installment contract rule, a party’s election of contractual remedies, and anticipatory repudiation or anticipatory breach. It did not appear that these issues were fully explored by the trial court; accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s ruling with respect to Slania’s argument that, under the terms of the lease, it could keep the lease in effect and bring an action to recover for breaches that occurred no more than three years before the date it filed this suit. The case was remanded for such further proceedings, as the trial court deemed necessary. View "Slania Enterprises, Inc. v. Appledore Medical Group, Inc." on Justia Law
Halifax-American Energy Company, LLC v. Provider Power, LLC
The plaintiffs were four companies with common owners and operators: Halifax-American Energy Company, LLC; PNE Energy Supply, LLC (PNE); Resident Power Natural Gas & Electric Solutions, LLC (Resident Power); and Freedom Logistics, LLC d/b/a Freedom Energy Logistics, LLC (collectively, the “Freedom Companies”). The defendants were three companies and their owners: Provider Power, LLC; Electricity N.H., LLC d/b/a E.N.H. Power; Electricity Maine, LLC; Emile Clavet; and Kevin Dean (collectively, the “Provider Power Companies”). The Freedom Companies and the Provider Power Companies were engaged in the same business, arranging for the supply of electricity and natural gas to commercial and residential customers in New Hampshire and other New England states. The parties’ current dispute centered on a Freedom Company employee whom the defendants hired, without the plaintiffs’ knowledge, allegedly to misappropriate the plaintiffs’ confidential and proprietary information. According to plaintiffs, defendants used the information obtained from the employee to harm the plaintiffs’ business by improperly interfering with their relationships with their customers and the employee. A jury returned verdicts in plaintiffs’ favor on many of their claims, including those for tortious interference with customer contracts, tortious interference with economic relations with customers, tortious interference with the employee’s contract, and misappropriation of trade secrets. The jury awarded compensatory damages to plaintiffs on each of these claims, except the misappropriation of trade secrets claim, and included in the damages award attorney’s fees incurred by plaintiffs in prior litigation against the employee for his wrongful conduct. Subsequently, the trial court awarded attorney’s fees to the plaintiffs under the New Hampshire Uniform Trade Secrets Act (NHUTSA). On appeal, defendants challenged: (1) the jury’s verdicts on plaintiffs’ claims for tortious interference with customer contracts and the employee’s contract; (2) the jury’s award of damages for tortious interference with customer contracts and tortious interference with economic relations, and its inclusion in that award of the attorney’s fees incurred in the plaintiffs’ prior litigation against the employee; and (3) the trial court’s award of attorney’s fees to plaintiffs under the NHUTSA. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Halifax-American Energy Company, LLC v. Provider Power, LLC" on Justia Law
International Business Machines Corp. v. Khoury
Appellant International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) appealed a superior court order upholding a wage claim decision issued by the New Hampshire Department of Labor (DOL) in favor of appellee Gary Khoury. As part of his work, Khoury sold IBM’s products to the federal government. Khoury testified that, prior to July 2014, IBM paid its sales representatives commissions based solely upon revenue-generating sales. According to Khoury, under this arrangement, sales representatives lacked an incentive to promote the deployment of IBM products that had previously been sold to an intermediary business partner (for which they received no commission), and a number of sales representatives had quit and found other jobs within IBM. In July 2014, IBM rolled out a new pilot program that allowed sales representatives to earn commissions on both the sale and deployment of IBM’s products. Under this program, sales representatives would receive a “primary” commission for reaching a revenue or sales quota and a “secondary” commission for reaching a deployment quota. Khoury testified that, approximately every six months, IBM sent each sales representative an individualized Incentive Plan Letter (IPL) defining the method by which the sales representative’s commissions would be calculated for sales and new deployments. IBM presented Khoury with an IPL for the period of July 1 to December 31, 2014. Pursuant to the terms of the IPL, Khoury would receive the “secondary” commission at issue in this case after meeting a quota of $571,000 for certain specified signings. The IPL contained several prominent disclaimers. By the end of the IPL period, he had met and surpassed his quota for the specified signings. At the DOL hearing, he testified that, in December 2014, his manager informed him that this entitled him to a commission payment of $154,124.21. That same month, he received $47,619.23 in advances from IBM towards this commission. Khoury testified that he subsequently made repeated unsuccessful inquiries about the additional funds. In March 2015, Khoury filed a wage claim with the DOL for $106,504.65, the balance of the commission. One month later, Khoury was informed that IBM planned to change his IPL terms by increasing the original quota from $571,000 to $1,000,000. Khoury testified that he was told that he could expect to receive a final payment of approximately $35,000 to $36,000. He stated that he then received a payment of $34,558.71 in May. Upon receiving this payment, Khoury reduced his wage claim against IBM from $106,504.65 to $71,946.27. The New Hampshire Supreme Court found no reversible error in the superior court's order, and affirmed it. View "International Business Machines Corp. v. Khoury" on Justia Law