July 24, 2019
- Issue: Whether the trial court erred in finding the New Hampshire State Constitution Part I, Article 20 guarantees the party subject to an administrative enforcement action by the New Hampshire Bureau of Securities regulation a jury trial.
The Bureau appealed the trial court’s denial of their motion for declaratory judgement, ruling that Part I, Article 20 of the New Hampshire State Constitution affords Ridlon with the right to a jury trial. The Court, relying on State and Federal Law, reviewed when a jury trial is granted in civil cases, looking at the nature of the case and the relief sought, and whether a jury trial was customary in that instance prior to 1786. The Court found that the Seventh Amendment is not within the 14th Amendment due process rights and the State Constitutional approach to right to a jury is different.
The Court found that even if the amount in controversy is over the statutory limit, an assessment of the circumstances of the case using the statutory framework must be done to determine whether a jury trial is applicable. Here, the statutory framework was unknown to common law in 1786. The Court evaluates both Town of Henniker and Morrill and disagrees with the parties interpretation that if the statutory minimum is met to collect a civil penalty the party has a right to a jury trial. In regards to the argument the claim can be considered common law fraud, after carefully reviewing the elements of both claims, the Court finds that RSA 421-B:1- 102(17) is broader and distinguishable from the common law tort because it has different elements and different standard of proof.
Finally, the Court disagrees with the dissent’s view that there existed an implied statutory right to a jury trial, rather than one under the State Constitution. The dissent argues the majority focuses on the administrative action. They suggest that the right to jury trial can exist on appeal after a claim is adjudicated by an administrative agency and failure to provide an appeal contravenes Part I, Article 20. This Constitutional right is a protection against the government. Wooster, 62 N.H. at 201. The dissent argues that Ridlon is entitled to a jury trial because before 1784 and the adoption of the New Hampshire State Constitution, under common law, civil penalties were actions for debt that were triable before a jury; the nature of the relief sought was only available in a court of law; and the maximum penalty was over the statutory amount. Alternatively, the dissent evaluated whether under Hallahan there was an implied right to a jury trial, the Court finding that stare decisis does not compel them to perpetuate the dicta in Hair Excitement and Franklin Lodge. The comprehensiveness of the statutory scheme is not important, only the nature of the claim and the relief sought. The majority approach would “nullify the constitutional right of trial by jury by mere statutory enactments.”