Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court

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The State and other defendants the New Hampshire Department of Education; Margaret Wood Hassan, individually; Christopher T. Sununu, as Governor; Virginia M. Barry, individually; and Frank Edelblut, as Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Education, appealed a superior court order granting plaintiffs Bedford School District and William Foote (collectively, “Bedford”), attorney’s fees in a case that Bedford had filed to recover adequate education funding that the State withheld in fiscal year 2016 because of a statutory limit on state funding imposed under RSA 198:41, III(b) (Supp. 2015) (repealed 2015, repeal effective July 1, 2017). On appeal, the State argued that because the trial court specifically declined to find that the State had acted in bad faith in this litigation, the trial court unsustainably exercised its discretion in awarding attorney’s fees. The State also argued that Bedford waived its right to attorney’s fees when it accepted education funds appropriated by a bill that contained a waiver provision. The New Hampshire Supreme Court found after review of the superior court record, that Bedford waived its right to an award of attorney’s fees, and thus reversed the superior court’s order. View "Bedford School District v. New Hampshire" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Cheryl Moore, M.D. appealed a superior court order granting summary judgment to defendants attorney Charles Grau and Upton Hatfield, LLP, on plaintiff’s claims for legal malpractice, violation of the New Hampshire Consumer Protection Act, and entitlement to an accounting and forfeiture of fees. Plaintiff was a member of Young & Novis, P.A. (Y&N), along with her partner, Dr. Glenn Littell. Y&N provided pathology services to the intervenor, Wentworth-Douglass Hospital (WDH), until WDH elected to terminate Y&N’s services. Prior to the termination, an attorney acting on Y&N’s behalf solicited trial counsel for a potential wrongful termination suit against WDH. Plaintiff retained Grau and his firm. On the date for Y&N’s contract was terminated, plaintiff allegedly permitted her husband, Dr. Thomas Moore, to access Y&N computers connected to WDH’s network. Plaintiff’s husband and Littell then downloaded confidential documents and destroyed certain electronic data. WDH sued plaintiff, her husband, and Littell in federal district court. Years later, the parties reached a tentative settlement. During negotiations preceding the tentative settlement, the hospital defendants were jointly represented by Grau and Upton Hatfield. In mid- August, however, plaintiff hired a separate attorney, Peter Callaghan, to represent her in finalizing the settlement. Plaintiff ultimately sued Grau and the firm for malpractice; the trial court granted summary judgment, concluding plaintiff’s claims against defendants “originate[d] or [grew] out of or flow from her relationship with WDH,” and, therefore, fell within the prohibition of Paragraph 4 of the Settlement Agreement. Having determined that the Settlement Agreement barred the suit, the court found it unnecessary to address the defendants’ remaining arguments or to decide a pending motion to quash. Plaintiff unsuccessfully moved for reconsideration. The New Hampshire Supreme Court determined the settlement agreement, by its terms, did not cover plaintiff's malpractice claims against Grau or the firm. Therefore, summary judgment was improperly granted, and the Court reversed. View "Moore v. Grau" on Justia Law

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Based on the facts of this case, the New Hampshire Supreme Court found that the superior court erred in granting summary judgment, because the superior court gave no explanation for denying plaintiff’s contractual lien claim. Plaintiff Harvey Garod appealed a superior court order dismissing his conversion action against defendants R. James Steiner and Steiner Law Offices, PLLC. Plaintiff was retained by a client to pursue a personal injury action. In connection with the representation, the client signed plaintiff’s standard engagement contract. Plaintiff worked for the client for two years before being discharged without cause. The client subsequently hired defendants, who filed an action (underlying action) on behalf of the client. Defendants ultimately settled the underlying action on the client’s behalf. After the settlement of the underlying action, the client filed a motion to order that the settlement check be made “payable solely to [the client] and her counsel, R. James Steiner. On the same day, the plaintiff filed a series of motions in the underlying action, including a second motion to intervene wherein he asserted that he possessed a contractual lien, a motion for interpleader, and a motion to foreclose lien. The client objected to all these motions, and the court denied all of them without explanation. Plaintiff then filed suit against defendants, again alleging that he had an enforceable contractual lien for fees against the defendants. Defendants moved to dismiss the action, which was ultimately granted. In reversing the superior court’s order, the Supreme Court was persuaded by plaintiff’s argument that he may have had a valid lien, and the contract signed by the client was enforceable against defendants because defendants were aware of his lien at the time they were retained, and because the client should not be required to pay both lawyers’ fees. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Garod v. Steiner Law Office, PLLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Gregory and Sonia Riso appealed a superior court order dismissing their negligence claim against defendants Attorney Maureen C. Dwyer and Barradale, O’Connell, Newkirk & Dwyer, P.A., on grounds that defendants owed no duty of care to the plaintiffs to promptly execute Gregory’s mother’s will. Because the Supreme Court found this case indistinguishable from "Sisson v. Jankowski," (148 N.H. 503 (2002)), the Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal. View "Riso v. Dwyer" on Justia Law

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Petitioner David Stacy appealed a decision of the New Hampshire Bar Association Public Protection Fund Committee (PPFC) denying his claim for reimbursement for the fees and costs that he and his conservatorship estate paid to attorney Donald Wyatt. The PPFC found that the petitioner failed to demonstrate that the funds at issue were lost as a result of Wyatt’s embezzlement, conversion, or theft. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that the PPFC sustainably exercised its discretion when it denied petitioner's claims. View "Appeal of Stacy" on Justia Law

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Defendants Robert Christy, Christy & Tessier, P.A., Debra Johnson, and Kathy Tremblay, appealed a superior court decision that rescinded a professional liability policy issued by Plaintiff Great American Insurance Company (GAIC), to the law firm of Christy & Tessier, P.A. Robert Christy (Christy) and Thomas Tessier (Tessier) were partners in the firm, practicing together for over forty-five years. In 1987, Frederick Jakobiec, M.D. (Jakobiec) retained Tessier to draft a will for him. In 2001, Jakobiec's mother, Beatrice Jakobiec (Beatrice), died intestate. Her two heirs were Jakobiec and his brother, Thaddeus Jakobiec (Thaddeus). Jakobiec asked Tessier, who was Beatrice's nephew, to handle the probate administration for his mother's estate. From 2002 through 2005, Tessier created false affidavits and powers of attorney, which he used to gain unauthorized access to estate accounts and assets belonging to Jakobiec and Thaddeus. Litigation ensued; two months after Tessier and Jakobiec entered into the settlement agreement, Christy executed a renewal application for professional liability coverage on behalf of the law firm. Question 6(a) on the renewal application asked: "After inquiry, is any lawyer aware of any claim, incident, act, error or omission in the last year that could result in a professional liability claim against any attorney of the Firm or a predecessor firm?" Christy's answer on behalf of the firm was "No." The trial court found that Christy's negative answer to the question in the renewal application was false "since Tessier at least knew of Dr. Jakobiec's claim against him in 2006." On appeal, the defendants argued that rescission was improper because: (1) Christy's answer to question 6(a) on the renewal application was objectively true; (2) rescission of the policy or denial of coverage would be substantially unfair to Christy and the other innocent insureds who neither knew nor could have known of Tessier's fraud; and (3) the alleged misrepresentation was made on a renewal application as opposed to an initial policy application. GAIC argued that rescission as to all insureds is the sole appropriate remedy given the material misrepresentations in the law firm's renewal application. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that the trial court erred as a matter of law in ruling that Tessier's knowledge is imputed to Christy and the other defendants thereby voiding the policy ab initio. The Court made no ruling, however, as to whether any of the defendants' conduct would result in non-coverage under the policy and remanded for further proceedings. View "Great American Insurance Company v. Christy" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Lorraine Tessier appealed a superior court order that granted Defendants' Regina Rockefeller and Nixon Peabody, LLP's motion to dismiss. The plaintiff is the wife of Thomas Tessier, an attorney who practiced at the law firm of Christy & Tessier in Manchester. Dr. Frederick Jakobiec hired Attorney Tessier to handle certain estate matters on his behalf. Attorney Rockefeller, an attorney employed by Nixon Peabody, and acting on behalf of Dr. Jakobiec, accused Attorney Tessier of misusing and converting substantial assets of the Jakobiec family to his own use. Plaintiff alleged that Attorney Rockefeller met with Attorney Tessier on numerous occasions and threatened him demanding an immediate return of the misappropriated assets. Attorney Rockefeller stated to Attorney Tessier that if he repaid the money no further action would be taken against him. Plaintiff alleged that over the next two years, Defendants "stripped" her and her husband of their individual and joint interests in all of their tangible assets. And despite a settlement agreement, and without notice to her or her husband, Defendants reported Attorney Tessier’s actions the attorney discipline office, and others. In addition, Dr. Jakobiec hired an attorney to bring suit against Attorney Tessier and to foreclose on the mortgage that was the subject of the settlement agreement. Plaintiff alleges that she suffered severe emotional and physical distress requiring hospitalization. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed part of the trial court's decision, and affirmed part. The Court found there was sufficient facts pled to support multiple causes of action Plaintiff brought in her original lawsuit. The Court found that the trial court was correct in dismissing Plaintiff's allegations of abuse of process and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Court remanded the case for further proceedings.