Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court

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The Town of Lincoln, New Hampshire, appealed a Water Court order upholding a decision by the Department of Environmental Services (DES) ordering the town to repair the Pemigewasset River Levee. The Water Counsel determined the Town owned the levee pursuant to RSA 482:11-a(2013), and therefore was obligated to maintain and repair the levee. In support of its position, DES contends that, in the Assurance, the Town “agreed to take responsibility for the [l]evee’s ongoing maintenance and repair.”1 However, the fact that the Town undertook certain maintenance obligations in the Assurance does not mean that the additional obligations of “ownership” under RSA 482:11-a can or should be imposed upon the Town. The New Hampshire Supreme Court determined that the Water Council’s conclusion the Town “owned” the levee under RSA 482:11-a was dependent on flawed reasoning that Appeal of Michele, 168 N.H. 98 (2015) controlled the outcome of this case. The Supreme Court concluded the Town met its burden to show the Water Council was unreasonable. The Court did not decide the precise degree of ownership that made a person or entity an “owner” for the purposes of RSA 482:11-a, it held that the limited access easement held by the Town in this case fell short of that threshold. Because the Court’s holding on this issue was dispositive of this case, it declined to address the parties’ other arguments. View "Appeal of Town of Lincoln" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff New Hampshire Alpha of SAE Trust (SAE), appealed a superior court order upholding a Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) decision in favor of defendant Town of Hanover (Town), that the use of SAE’s property at 38 College Street (the property) violated the Town’s zoning ordinance. SAE built the property in the late 1920s specifically to accommodate the Dartmouth College (College) chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. Fraternity members continuously occupied the property since 1931. SAE’s use of the property as a student residence was permitted as of right from the time the Town adopted its first zoning ordinance in 1931 until the ordinance was amended in 1976. Since the 1976 amendment, the property was zoned in the “‘I’ Institution” district. Student residences were not permitted as of right, but could be permitted by special exception. In February 2016, the College revoked its official recognition of SAE after learning that the national charter of the Dartmouth chapter had been suspended. As a result, the College no longer recognized the fraternity as a college-approved housing facility or provided insurance coverage. The College then notified the Town that it no longer recognized the fraternity as a student organization. In light of the College’s derecognition, the zoning administrator informed SAE that its use of the property as a student residence was now violating the zoning ordinance because it was not operating “in conjunction with an institutional use,” and, if continued, would subject SAE to daily fines. The New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the ZBA on all issues addressed except that of whether SAE itself qualified as an “Institution” in its own right under the zoning ordinance. As to that issue, the Court vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "New Hampshire Alpha of SAE Trust v. Town of Hanover" on Justia Law

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The Town of Belmont appealed a New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) decision that, pursuant to RSA 72:36-a (2012) respondent Robin M. Nordle 2013 Trust was entitled to a 100% real estate tax exemption for a homestead in Belmont. RSA 72:36-a provided that a person who met certain qualifications set forth in the statute, and “who owns a specially adapted homestead which has been acquired with the assistance of the Veterans Administration,” qualified for a property tax exemption. Louis Nordle served during the Vietnam War and was honorably discharged in 1969. In 1998, Louis and his wife, Robin Nordle, purchased a summer camp in Belmont. In 2007, the Nordles demolished the original home and built a new home. The house was later transferred to the Robin M. Nordle 2013 Trust, in which Louis had a life estate in the trust and Robin was the trustee. In 2015, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs determined that Louis was totally and permanently disabled due to his service-connected disabilities. In 2016, Louis received a “Specially Adapted Housing Grant” from the Veterans Administration (VA), and used the funds to modify his home to accommodate his disability. The town originally denied Nordle's application for tax-exempt status, determining that the “home was not ‘acquired’ or ‘purchased’ by or with the assistance of a VA loan.” In making its determination, the town relied upon advice from the New Hampshire Department of Revenue that, in order to be entitled to the property tax exemption, the VA “had to help ‘purchase’ the home not adapt it.” The BTLA reasoned that “the word ‘acquired’ in the statute had a plain meaning broader than simply ‘purchased,’” and that because Louis “obtained, and is now in possession of, a specially adapted homestead . . . only because of the financial assistance he received from the VA,” the taxpayer was entitled to the tax exemption set forth in RSA 72:36-a. The New Hampshire Supreme Court determined that once the remodeling was completed, the taxpayer owned a specially adapted homestead which was “acquired with the assistance of the Veterans Administration.” and affirmed the BTLA’s determination that the taxpayer was entitled to a 100% real estate tax exemption for the homestead in Belmont. View "Appeal of Town of Belmont" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs David and Katherine Dietz appealed a superior court order that upheld a zoning board of adjustment (ZBA) decision for defendant Town of Tuftonboro, which granted intervenor Sawyer Point Realty, LLC (collectively with Sawyer Point Realty Trust, its predecessor in interest, Sawyer Point), two equitable waivers related to two additions Sawyer Point constructed on its house in violation of the Town’s zoning ordinance requiring a fifty-foot setback from Lake Winnipesaukee. Sawyer Point’s house was located along the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee and within the Town’s Lakefront Residential Zoning District (District); the Dietzes owned the abutting property, also within the District. In 1999, Sawyer Point added a second floor addition over the eastern portion of the first floor of its house, aware that the existing structure was located within the setback, and that a second floor addition would also be within the setback. Prior to construction, Sawyer Point submitted a building permit application to the Town containing a rough sketch of the existing house, which also showed that the house was situated less than fifty feet from the lake. The Town’s building inspector granted the building permit, noting the addition would cause “no change in footprint.” In 2008-2009, Sawyer Point constructed a second addition to its house, again receiving permission from the Town to construct. In February 2014, Sawyer Point commissioned a survey which revealed, in regard to the 2008 Addition, more of the new structure was within the setback than had been represented to the ZBA. In December 2014, the Dietzes, after learning of this discrepancy, sought injunctive relief against Sawyer Point, claiming that Sawyer Point had built within the setback without obtaining the required approvals, and requesting that the court order the removal of the unlawful construction. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not err when it sustained the ZBA and declined to weigh the cumulative effect of building within the lakefront setback throughout the Town. Moreover, relying on the evidence before it, the trial court agreed with the ZBA that there was little or no public benefit to be gained by correcting the violations. Because the Dietzes have failed to show that this finding was unreasonable or unsupported by the evidence, the trial court's decision was upheld. View "Dietz v. Town of Tuftonboro" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, the Trustees of Dartmouth College, appealed a superior court order upholding the denial of its application for site plan approval by the Town of Hanover’s Planning Board for the construction of an Indoor Practice Facility (IPF). The planning board denied approval of the application upon finding that it failed to comply with three general considerations of Hanover’s site plan regulations. The superior court upheld the planning board’s decision following a hearing at which several Hanover residents owning properties abutting the proposed site intervened to defend the board’s decision (abutters). After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed and remanded because the evidence did not reasonably support the trial court’s findings. The certified record confirmed the board based its denial of Dartmouth’s application upon subjective and personal feelings and the trial court unreasonably adopted a rationale not supported by the record to affirm the board’s decision. View "Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Town of Hanover" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff San-Ken Homes, Inc. (San-Ken) appealed a superior court decision requiring it to apply for registration or exemption with defendant New Hampshire Attorney General, Consumer Protection and Antitrust Bureau (Bureau), under the Land Sales Full Disclosure Act (Act), and to make certain improvements to Old Beaver Road in the Oakwood Common subdivision in New Ipswich. The Act allows for exemptions from registration under certain circumstances. In October 2006, the Bureau granted a certificate of exemption to the development in which Old Beaver Road was located, 112 Chestnut, “as to the offer and sale of” the 16 lots “because of the limited character of the offering and because the subdivision is adequately regulated by municipal ordinances.” In June 2014, San-Ken, which had no relationship to 112 Chestnut, purchased nine undeveloped lots at a foreclosure sale and recorded title to the property. The New Ipswich Planning Board held a hearing on San-Ken’s application for modification of the Board’s original conditions for Old Beaver Road. As an alternative to the Board revoking the subdivision approval, Town counsel recommended that it entertain a motion to waive the prior road completion requirements and specifications on the condition that San-Ken complete certain improvements to the road at its own expense. San-Ken satisfied all of the Board’s requirements. San-Ken later appealed to the trial court challenging the Bureau's authority under the Act to require it to be registered or exempted and to require it to make improvements to Old Beaver Road. When that challenge was unsuccessful, San-Ken appealed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, arguing the trial court erred in: (1) applying a mistaken standard of review; (2) finding San-Ken to be a successor subdivider under the Act; and (3) determining that the Bureau was within its authority to require San-Ken to further improve Old Beaver Road as a condition of obtaining a certificate of exemption. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred as a matter of law in finding that the Act authorized the Bureau to require San-Ken to complete Old Beaver Road to the standard promised by 112 Chestnut as a condition of obtaining a certificate of exemption. View "San-Ken Homes, Inc. v. New Hampshire Attorney General" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Rochester City Council appealed a superior court order affirming defendant City of Rochester Zoning Board of Adjustment’s grant of a variance to defendants Donald and Bonnie Toy. On appeal, the Council argued the trial court: (1) erred in affirming the ZBA’s decision to grant a variance to the Toys; and (2) unsustainably exercised its discretion in denying the plaintiff’s motions to expand the record. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Rochester City Council v. Rochester Zoning Board of Adjustment" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Mary Allen, Fred Ward, and other interested parties, appealed the decision of the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee (Committee) authorizing respondent Antrim Wind Energy, LLC (Antrim Wind), to construct and operate nine wind turbines in the town of Antrim. Antrim Wind originally filed an application (Antrim I) with the Committee in 2012, seeking authorization to construct ten wind turbines. Six of the turbines would be equipped with red flashing aviation obstruction lights. The project also included four miles of new gravel surfaced roads, a joint electrical system, an interconnection substation, and a maintenance building. Antrim Wind further proposed to construct a meteorological tower between turbines three and four to obtain wind data, dedicate 800 acres of land to conservation easements, and install a radar activated lighting system. Antrim I was initially denied; a few years later, Antrim II was filed and ultimately approved by the Committee, finding the second application reflected a “substantial change” from the first application, and as such, would not “have an unreasonable adverse effect on the health, safety, or aesthetics of the region. On appeal, petitioners argued the Committee’s ultimate decision was unreasonable, unlawful, and unjust because: (1) the subcommittee was unlawfully constituted; (2) the denial of Antrim I barred Antrim Wind’s Antrim II application under the doctrine of res judicata as well as the subsequent application doctrine as set forth in Fisher v. City of Dover, 120 N.H. 187 (1980); and (3) there was insufficient evidence in the record to support the subcommittee’s finding that the project proposed in Antrim II would not have an unreasonable adverse impact on aesthetics, public health, and safety. After review of the record, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded there was competent evidence to support all of the subcommittee’s factual findings. The subcommittee deliberated about each of these assessments and impacts and determined which experts it found to be more credible. The subcommittee also imposed certain mitigation measures and conditions to address remaining concerns and to ensure regulatory compliance. Accordingly, the Court concluded petitioners failed to show reversible error. View "Appeal of Allen et al." on Justia Law

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Petitioner N. Miles Cook, III, appealed a Wetlands Council (Council) ruling upholding the decision of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) denying his request for a permit to reconstruct and extend his dock on the Piscataqua River. Because DES did not have the benefit of the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s interpretation of the term “need” as used in Env-Wt 302.01(a) and Env-Wt 302.04(a)(1) for determining whether an applicant has met the permit requirements, and because, as the Council noted, the central issue was whether petitioner “could justify the expanded dock proposal based on his ‘need’ to access navigable water on a more frequent basis than he currently experiences with the existing dock,” the Supreme Court vacated DES’s decision and remanded to the Council with instructions to remand to DES for further consideration in light of the definition the Court adopted for the purposes of this opinion. View "Appeal of N. Miles Cook, III" on Justia Law

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Defendant-landowner Carl Casagrande appealed a superior court order that granted summary judgment to plaintiff Town of Goshen. The issue before the trial court was whether a section of road abutting Casagrande’s property was an unmaintained town road, or whether, as Casagrande contended, it was private property because the residents of Goshen voted at a town meeting in 1891 to discontinue the road. After reviewing the record of the 1891 town meeting, including the language of the warrant article, the trial court concluded that the town had not voted to discontinue the road, and, therefore, the abutting road was a public highway. View "Town of Goshen v. Casagrande" on Justia Law