Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court

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Farmington School District appealed a Board of Education (state board) decision reversing the decision of the Farmington School Board (local board) not to renew the employment contract of Demetria McKaig, a guidance counselor at Farmington High School. In November 2012, a student (Student A) and her boyfriend told McKaig and another guidance counselor that Student A was pregnant and that she wanted to terminate her pregnancy. Student A was fifteen years old at the time. McKaig suggested that Student A tell her mother about the pregnancy, but Student A refused. The principal expressed his view that the school should inform Student A’s mother about the pregnancy. McKaig disagreed, asserting that Student A had a right to keep the pregnancy confidential. McKaig spoke with Attorney Barbara Keshen of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union about Student A’s situation. Keshen’s opinion was that the judicial bypass law protected the confidentiality of Student A’s pregnancy and the fact that she was contemplating an abortion. McKaig relayed this opinion to Student A, and Student A made an appointment with a health center and another attorney to assist her with the judicial bypass proceedings. Meanwhile, the principal instructed the school nurse to meet with Student A to tell her that the school would inform her mother about her pregnancy. McKaig told the principal about her conversation with Keshen and urged him to contact Keshen to discuss Student A’s rights. The principal did not contact Keshen; however, Keshen contacted him. He told Keshen that the parental notification and judicial bypass laws did not prevent him from telling Student A’s mother about the pregnancy. Keshen instituted a petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the principal to prevent him from contacting Student A’s mother. McKaig was named as the petitioner “ON BEHALF OF [Student A]”; she was not named in her individual capacity. The TRO was ultimately granted. Months later, McKaig received a notice of nonrenewal from the superintendent; in the written statement of the reasons for non-renewal, the superintendent listed three reasons: insubordination, breach of student confidentiality, and neglect of duties. After the hearing, the local board upheld McKaig’s nonrenewal on those grounds. McKaig appealed to the state board, which found, pursuant that the local board’s decision was “clearly erroneous.” The state board reversed the local board’s decision to uphold McKaig’s nonrenewal, but it did not order McKaig’s reinstatement or any other remedy. McKaig cross-appealed the state board’s decision and argued that she was entitled to reinstatement with back pay and benefits. The Supreme Court affirmed the state board’s reversal of the local board’s decision, and ordered that McKaig be reinstated to her former job. The case was remanded to the state board for further proceedings to determine whether she was entitled to additional remedies. View "Appeal of Farmington School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Nichole Wilkins and Beverly Mulcahey sued their former employer, Fred Fuller Oil Company, Inc. (Fuller Oil), for sexual harassment and retaliation. Plaintiffs also sued Frederick J. Fuller, an employee of Fuller Oil, individually Prior to trial, defendant sought to prohibit plaintiffs from asserting claims against him under RSA chapter 354-A in his individual capacity. The district court thereafter informed the parties that it would not allow plaintiffs to assert such claims. Subsequently, Fuller Oil filed for bankruptcy protection and, therefore, the case against Fuller Oil was stayed; the case was reopened as to claims against defendant. Because the questions of whether an employee could recover damages from another employee for aiding and abetting sexual harassment or for retaliation under RSA chapter 354-A concerned unresolved issues of New Hampshire law, the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire certified two questions of New Hampshire law to the New Hampshire Supreme Court: (1) whether sections 354-A:2 and 354-A:7 of the New Hampshire Revised Statutes imposed individual employee liability for aiding and abetting discrimination in the workplace; and (2) whether section 354-A:19 of the New Hampshire Revised Statutes imposed individual employee liability for retaliation in the workplace. The New Hampshire Supreme Court answered both questions in the affirmative. View "U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n v. Fred Fuller Oil Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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Respondent, the father of G.G., appealed a superior court order which, after de novo review, upheld a finding by the 10th Circuit Court – Portsmouth Family Division that the respondent had abused and neglected G.G. Respondent challenged the superior court’s denial of his request to cross-examine or subpoena G.G. after the court admitted her videotaped interview into evidence. The Supreme Court concluded that given the plain language of the pertinent statutes and the court’s inherent authority to control the proceedings before it, trial courts have the discretion in abuse and neglect proceedings to determine whether any witness, including the child, should be compelled to testify. The record was unclear as to whether the trial court adequately considered the competing interests of respondent and the child. The Supreme Court vacated the trial court's decision and remanded this case for further proceedings: "[w]hen the court is considering whether to compel G.G. to testify in this case, the court may wish to consider whether she testified at the respondent's criminal trial and, if so, whether her testimony in the criminal proceeding would suffice for the instant proceeding." View "In re G.G." on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire certified a question to the New Hampshire Supreme Court: Whether RSA 507-B:2 and RSA 507-B:5 were constitutional under Part I, Article 14 of the New Hampshire Constitution, to the extent they prevented recovery for Plaintiff's claim for civil battery and damages against the Town of Sanbornton under a theory of respondeat superior. This case arose from a municipal police officer's use of a stun gun during a field sobriety test. Plaintiff Dennis Huckins alleged that the police officer, defendant Mark McSweeney, used his stun gun on him "multiple times." McSweeney claimed he used it only once when plaintiff began to run away before completing the field sobriety test. Plaintiff sued McSweeney and his employer, defendant Town of Sanbornton for damages, alleging, among other claims, a battery claim against McSweeney for his use of the stun gun and a claim that the Town was liable for battery under the doctrine of respondeat superior. The defendants sought summary judgment on both claims. The court denied McSweeney’s motion because the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff, did not establish that McSweeney fired only once, and because "[n]o reasonable police officer could have believed that the encounter . . . justified firing the [stun gun] a second time." Upon careful consideration of the facts of this case and the implicated statutes, the New Hampshire Court answered the certified question in the affirmative. View "Huckins v. McSweeney" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Kenneth Lahm appealed a superior court order that granted summary judgment to defendants, Detective Michael Farrington and the Town of Tilton. Plaintiff sued defendants for negligence. Farrington interviewed an alleged victim who was recovering from severe burns and bruises at Concord Hospital, and who stated that she believed she had been sexually assaulted. The alleged victim claimed that, three days earlier, she had gone home with plaintiff after drinking approximately four beers at a bar. She claimed that, upon arriving at plaintiff's house, plaintiff gave her two drinks containing Red Bull, after which she "passed out" and did not remember anything until waking three days later in plaintiff's bed, without any clothes, and discovering severe burns and bruises on her body. Following plaintiff's arrest and the search of his house, an evidentiary probable cause hearing was held, at which a judge found probable cause that plaintiff had committed second-degree assault. Plaintiff hired private investigators, who interviewed, among other people, neighbors who recalled seeing the alleged victim outside plaintiff's house during the time she claimed to have been passed out. The investigators also interviewed a friend of plaintiff, a medical doctor who said that he spoke to the alleged victim by phone about her injuries, and that she told him they had been caused by her having accidentally fallen onto a wood stove. Plaintiff claimed that, once the prosecution received this and other "exculpatory information," which he provided to the court, it dropped the pending charge against him. Plaintiff sued Farrington and the Town, alleging that Farrington had conducted a negligent investigation prior to his arrest, and that the Town was vicariously liable. The defendants moved for summary judgment on the basis, among other grounds, that Farrington "did not have a legal duty to investigate beyond establishing probable cause before arresting and bringing a criminal charge against [Lahm]." Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that immunizing police officers from "extended liability" was an interest that outweighs plaintiff's claimed interest in requiring a "reasonable investigation beyond just finding probable cause" prior to arrest. Because Farrington owed no duty to plaintiff, he could not be found liable for negligence on these facts. Absent tortious conduct by Farrington, the Town could not be vicariously liable for his conduct. View "Lahm v. Farrington" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Justin Czyzewski appealed a Superior Court ruling that denied his request for a declaration that although he was convicted of attempted sexual assault, he was not required to register as a sex offender under New Hampshire law. Although the record did not contain the details of his conviction for attempted sexual assault, the trial court noted that the petitioner "engaged in conduct in an online chat room with an undercover police detective, whom [he] believed to be a 13-year old female." The petitioner lived in Pennsylvania but, as the trial court stated, "was required to register as a sex offender [there] because he would be required to register in New Hampshire." Upon review, the Supreme Court could not " subscribe to the petitioner's statutory interpretation," and affirmed the Superior Court's ruling. View "Czyzewski v. New Hampshire Department of Safety" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Osahenrumwen Ojo appealed a superior court order that granted Defendants Officer Joseph Lorenzo and the Manchester Police Department's motion to dismiss. Plaintiff was stopped while walking away from his brother's home to after an altercation at the home. Officer Lorenzo arrested Plaintiff after Plaintiff was identified from a photographic line up by a kidnapping victim. The State charged Plaintiff with criminal kidnapping. A grand jury later returned an indictment against him. After Plaintiff spent seventeen months in pretrial custody, the State nol prossed all charged against him because the complaining witness allegedly moved to Germany. Unrepresented by counsel, Plaintiff filed a civil lawsuit against defendants alleging, among other things, that defendants: (1) ignored their duties to fully, reasonably, and prudently conduct their investigation before placing him under arrest (and therefore lacked probable cause to arrest); and (2) employed unnecessarily suggestive, unreliable, and untrustworthy identification procedures. Finding probable cause existed at the time of Plaintiff's arrest, the superior court granted defendants' motion to dismiss. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that defendants did not have probable cause to arrest Plaintiff due to inconsistencies in the alleged victim's description and photographic identification and Plaintiff's actual appearance the day he was arrested. The Court affirmed the superior court with respect to all other issues raised on appeal. View "Ojo v. Lorenzo" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Susan Jeffery appealed a superior court order that granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant City of Nashua on her wrongful discharge and breach of contract claims. Plaintiff worked for the City since 1977 in the payroll department. She became the City's risk manager in 1998. n 2004, Plaintiff became concerned that her direct supervisor, Maureen Lemieux, did not understand the budgetary process because "she wanted to level fund the health line items" in the City’s 2005 fiscal year budget. Plaintiff raised her concerns with Lemieux "dozens of times," but Lemieux responded that "she was comfortable with her numbers." In April 2005, the City discovered that the health insurance line item was underfunded. Consequently, the Board of Aldermen convened an ad hoc health care budget committee to investigate the circumstances leading up to the shortfall. Plaintiff alleged that between her two interviews with the committee, she was summoned to a meeting with the mayor, at which he asked her whether she, as department manager, should be held responsible for the budget shortfall. Plaintiff refused to accept responsibility, explaining that she had tried to prevent the error by raising her concerns with Lemieux and others. Further, Plaintiff alleged that on a separate occasion, the mayor suggested that they "all share the blame," but she refused his suggestion. Subsequently, Plaintiff started receiving poor performance evaluations and later received disciplinary actions. She would later be demoted. Shortly after her demotion, Plaintiff took a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act; while still on leave, Plaintiff resigned her position, stating she wished to retire early. Three years after her resignation, Plaintiff sued the City alleging constructive discharge and breach of contract. Finding that Plaintiff's suit fell outside the statute of limitations, and that Plaintiff had no enforceable employment contract with the City, the Supreme Court affirmed summary judgment granted in favor of the City.

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Petitioner David Fischer appealed a superior court order on his motions for pretrial bail, claiming that the court delegated authority to Strafford County Community Corrections (SCCC), which is managed by the Respondent, Superintendent of the Strafford County House of Corrections, in violation of the separation of powers doctrine. The written order stated that bail was set at $50,000 cash "[t]o convert to PR if found accep[table] by SCCC – Whether Bail is Posted or Converted all conditions apply." A pretrial motion to amend bail was denied, stating from the bench "[the judge was] just not going to order [SCCC] to do something it is not inclined to do. I have the power, and I have the discretion to do that, but I'm not going to in this case. The bail remains as is." Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the bail orders at issue here reflected "a cooperative accommodation among" the judicial and executive branches and does not violate the separation of powers doctrine.

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Plaintiff Dana Chatman appealed a superior court order that dismissed his negligence claims against Defendant Paul Giampa, and his respondeat superior claim against Defendants Strafford County and the Strafford County Department of Corrections. Plaintiff was participating in a work program run by the Corrections Department, under the direct supervision of Giampa. Giampa directed Plaintiff and others to load numerous tables and chairs onto a trailer. The trailer was not yet hitched to another vehicle, and not situated on even ground. Giampa directed Plaintiff and the others to lift the trailer and hitch it to a pickup truck when a weld on the trailer jack/hitch failed, causing the trailer to fall on Plaintiff's left leg and ankle. Plaintiff sustained permanent injury to his leg and ankle. The trial court agreed with the defendants that the plaintiff's claims did not fall within the scope of RSA 507-B:2 because the truck and trailer were not being "operated" at the time of the loading/hitching, and declined to find that RSA 507-B:2 was unconstitutional. Upon review, the Supreme held "that the entire range of activities inherent in the loading and unloading process must be considered to determine whether a vehicle was being operated" and that "[o]peration includes participation in loading and unloading activities." The Court reversed the trial court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings.