MUNICIPAL LAW

Stacie Ayn Murphy Corcoran
2011 graduate of Suffolk University,
practicing in Mass. and NH

No. 2018-0171

July 2, 2019

Affirmed

  • Issue: Whether the plaintiff had standing to bring suit.
  • Issue: Whether the court erred in dismissing the plaintiff’s claims for declaratory, injunctive, and mandamus relief based on the court’s determination that the City of Nashua’s spending cap in the city charter was unenforceable because it violates state law.

The City of Nashua added a spending cap provision to the City charter, which includes exemptions to the spending cap in 1993. In April 2017, the Board of Alderman passed an ordinance to exempt the wastewater treatment funds from the combined annual municipal budget. Teeboom brought a suit to enforce the spending cap provision, contending that exempting the wastewater treatment funds violated that provision. The City countered that the provision was validly enacted and that Teeboom lacked standing. The court found that “spending cap provision unenforceable because it does not contain an override provision as required by state law and the charter provision allowing a supermajority of the board to exempt from the spending cap municipal bond and capital expenditures did not constate the requisite override provision… was unenforceable… and [Teeboom] lacked standing to bring his claims.”

On appeal, the Court found that Teeboom’s status as a taxpayer in conjunction with an “injury or impairment of rights can confer standing.” The Court found that Teeboom is not required to show the budget directly increased his taxes, only that it be “fairly traceable to the challenged action … and not the result of independent action of some third party.”

Next, the Court turns to whether the spending cap is enforceable and reviews the statutes de novo. The Court reviews the “home rule amendment” Part I, Article 39 of the State Constitution, the town’s adoption/ amendment of the town’s form of government under RSA 49-B, 49-C and 49D, as well as savings clauses in RSA 49-B and 49-C both in pre-2011 and current form. The Court agreed with the trial court that the City’s spending cap does not contain an override provision within the meaning of RSA 49-C:12, III and :33 and focused on the language of the provision to find that exempting municipal bonds and capital expenditures from the spending cap does not qualify an override provision.

Nonetheless, the Court looked at whether the spending cap is enforceable (RSA 49-B:13, II-a). The Court agreed with the City’s interpretation of the statute because they gave meaning to all parts of the statute. The Court found that previously enacted spending caps are enforceable, regardless of whether they were lawful when adopted and that the City’s interpretation of the spending cap was a “state interest” because it expressed the intent of the legislature to “require uniform practices.” The Court found that in enacting SB-2 that the legislature was attempting to immunize challenges based on lack of authority and ensure that the override provision would allow the municipality “flexibility address local needs.” Because the City Charter does not contain an override provision, the Court affirms the trial court determination that the spending cap is unenforceable.

Douglas, Leonard & Garvey, of Concord, (Charles G. Douglas, III on the brief and orally) for the plaintiff Fred S. Teeboom. Office of Corporate Counsel, of Nashua, (Steven A. Bolton and Dorothy S. Clarke on the memorandum of law, and Mr. Bolton orally) for the defendants.