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Bar News - January 20, 2016


US District Court Decision Listing

December 2015

* Published

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW

12/3/15
Lorraine J. LaBonte, Individually and as the Administratrix of the Estate of Allen Field v. Town of Epsom, NH; Dana Flanders; and Wayne Preve
Case No. 14-cv-529-SM, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 221

Allen Field died from injuries sustained in an automobile accident while attempting to evade an Epsom police officer. Subsequently, Field’s estate brought this action, advancing two federal claims: first, that the police officer violated Field’s substantive due process rights by engaging in “conscience shocking” behavior; and, second, that the Town of Epsom maintained an unconstitutional custom or policy of failing to adequately train its police officers. The court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment, concluding that because plaintiff had no evidence suggesting that the officer intended to harm Field, plaintiff could not demonstrate that the officer violated Field’s substantive due process rights. And, because the officer did not violate Field’s constitutional rights, the Town cannot be liable for having maintained an unconstitutional custom or policy. 15 pages. Judge Steven J. McAuliffe.


CONTRACTS

12/10/15
Hitchiner Manufacturing, Co. v. Eaton Co.
Case No. 15-cv-153-PB, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 225

Hitchiner Manufacturing sued Eaton Corporation, bringing a range of claims stemming from Eaton’s alleged breach of a supply agreement between the two parties to manufacture and supply General Motors with certain automobile parts. Eaton filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The court denied the motion with respect to four of Hitchiner’s claims because the claims presented issues that required further factual development. The court granted the motion with respect to one claim, Hitchiner’s cause of action for unjust enrichment. 5 pages. Judge Paul J. Barbadoro.


CRIMINAL LAW; CONSPIRACY

12/9/15
USA v. Rafael Humberto Celaya Valenzuela
Case No. 11-cr-84-04-JL, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 226*

After conviction on drug conspiracy charge, defendant moved for reconsideration of the court’s denial of his motion for judgment of acquittal made at the close of the government’s case. The court denied the motion for reconsideration because it was both procedurally and substantively deficient. Procedurally, the motion for reconsideration failed because it raised an argument that should have been raised in his original acquittal motion. Substantively, the defendant argued that the evidence failed to establish a “jurisdictional nexus” between the conspiracy of conviction and the United States. The court, however, found sufficient evidence in the form of discussions of plans to use United States ports in the relevant drug distribution scheme. 12 pages. Chief Judge Joseph N. Laplante.


EMPLOYMENT LAW

12/29/15
Jennifer Posteraro v. RBS Citizens, N.A. and Christos Hatzidakis
Case No. 13-cv-416-JL, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 237

Plaintiff sued her former employer and manager for sexual harassment, disability discrimination, retaliation, wrongful termination and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The court granted in part and denied in part defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The court ruled that no reasonable jury could find that plaintiff’s co-workers’ sex-related banter was “severe or pervasive,” within the meaning of Title VII. Moreover, the record indisputably established that the employer took prompt and effective steps to resolve the issue to plaintiff’s satisfaction after she notified management of her concerns. Similarly, the court found no genuine issue as to whether plaintiff was subject to disability-based harassment or whether her employer reasonably accommodated her disability. The court also found that defendants were entitled to judgment as a matter of law on plaintiff’s wrongful termination, constructive discharge, and emotional distress claims. However, the court found that a jury could reasonably conclude that plaintiff’s supervisor’s actions after she complained of sexual harassment constituted retaliation. 34 pages. Chief Judge Joseph N. Laplante.


ERISA

12/9/15
Smith-Emerson v. Liberty Life Assurance of Boston
Case No. 14-cv-120-PB, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 224

Nicole Smith-Emerson sued the Liberty Life Assurance of Boston under § 502(a)(1)(B) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, challenging Liberty’s decision to terminate her long-term disability benefits. After this court previously ruled that the decision would be subject to deferential “arbitrary and capricious” review, the parties filed cross-motions for judgment on the administrative record. The court granted judgment for Liberty, finding that its prior decision to terminate Smith-Emerson’s benefits was supported by substantial evidence, including medical opinions and surveillance videos. 28 pages. Judge Paul J. Barbadoro.


FEDERAL TORT CLAIMS ACT

12/22/15
Peter Porter v. United States of America
Case No. 14-cv-166-LM, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 234

The plaintiff was injured at the United States Post Office in Claremont, New Hampshire, when a loading dock ramp unexpectedly struck him in the back. The plaintiff brought suit against the United States of America, alleging a claim of negligence under the Federal Tort Claims Act. After a three-day bench trial, the court ruled in favor of the government. The court concluded that the government was not negligent in maintaining the loading dock ramps. The court further concluded that, even if the government were negligent, the plaintiff was also negligent in failing to exercise due care by attempting to lower the ramps while standing in front of them, and that the plaintiff’s negligence exceeded any negligence on the part of the government. 22 pages. Judge Landya McCafferty.


MORTGAGE LAW

12/18/15
Adam Aho v. Bank of America, NA, et al.
Case No. 15-cv-128-JL, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 232

Plaintiff brought a seven count complaint for damages and declaratory and injunctive relief against two banks whom he claimed had no right to foreclose on his home. The court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. As to Bank of America, the court ruled that no wrongful foreclosure action can lie against a bank that has not foreclosed on plaintiff’s property. As to Deutsche Bank, the court rejected plaintiff’s argument that Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (“MERS”) lacked the power to assign the mortgage to Deutsche Bank’s predecessor. Finally, the court found that plaintiff lacked standing to allege a violation of the operative pooling and service agreement. Among other reasons, the court noted that the case upon which plaintiff relied had been overturned on appeal. 9 pages. Chief Judge Joseph N. Laplante


MOTION TO DISMISS

12/10/15
Bonnie McGrenaghan v. Federal National Mortgage Association
Case No. 15-cv-271-SM, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 227

Plaintiff brought suit challenging FNMA’s authority to foreclose its mortgage deed to her home, asserting that FNMA lacks standing, the mortgage is no longer enforceable, FNMA breached the implied obligation of good faith and fair dealing, and, finally, that FNMA had breached the terms of the mortgage by failing to give her proper notice of the foreclosure. FNMA moved to dismiss all claims. The court concluded that only one of those claims stated a viable cause of action: breach of contract. Consequently, it granted, in part, FNMA’s motion and dismissed all claims advanced in plaintiff’s complaint except her claim for breach of contract. 12 pages. Judge Steven J. McAuliffe.


MULTIDISTRICT LITIGATION (CLASS CERTIFICATION)

12/8/15
In re: Dial Complete Marketing and Sales Practices Litigation
Case No. 11-md-2263-SM, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 222

Consumers in Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin brought suit on behalf of themselves and similarly situated consumers, alleging that Dial continually misrepresented the antibacterial properties of its “Dial Complete” branded soaps. Plaintiffs advanced claims under their respective state consumer protection/unfair trade practices statutes, as well as statutory and common law causes of action for breach of warranty and unjust enrichment. Pursuant to Fed. Rule Civ. P. 23, plaintiffs moved to certify a class for each claim, consisting of each state’s purported class members. The court concluded that plaintiffs had satisfied Rule 23(a)’s requirements, and Rule 23(b)(3)’s superiority requirements. However, the court held that several of plaintiffs’ state claims were not amenable to classwide proof, and therefore did not meet Rule 23(b)(3)’s predominance requirements. For the remaining state claims, the court concluded that the plaintiffs had not shown that common questions predominated with respect to the damages calculation. The court denied plaintiffs’ motion for certification with respect to the remaining state claims without prejudice, and allowed plaintiffs 60 days to address the deficiencies described in the court’s order. 107 pages. Judge Steven J. McAuliffe.


RESPONDEAT SUPERIOR

12/2/15
Jon W. Larochelle, Jr. v. N.H. Department of Corrections; Jennifer L. Goduti; Scott Harrington; and Michael McAlister
Case No. 14-cv-479-SM, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 218

While he was on parole status and under the supervision of the N.H. Department of Corrections, plaintiff says his assigned alcohol and drug counselor coerced him into a sexual relationship by threatening to have him reincarcerated and by providing him with alcohol and controlled substances. He claims her conduct violated both common law and constitutionally protected rights. Defendants, with the exception of the drug counselor, moved to dismiss all of plaintiff’s claims. The court granted that motion in part, and denied it in part. Specifically, the court held that plaintiff’s common law claims of negligence and negligent supervision were sufficiently pled to state viable causes of action and, therefore, survive defendants’ motion to dismiss. 28 pages. Judge Steven J. McAuliffe.


SOCIAL SECURITY

12/8/15
Cassandra Lee Carr v. Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, U.S. Social Security Administration
Case No. 14-cv-437-PB, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 223

Claimant appealed the Social Security Administration’s denial of her applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. She argued that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in finding that the claimant lacked the deficits in adaptive functioning required for the claimant to be considered disabled. She also argued that the ALJ improperly substituted his own views for medical opinion in assessing her residual functional capacity (RFC). The court found that substantial evidence did not support the ALJ’s RFC assessment, because the ALJ improperly rejected the only relevant medical opinions, and based the claimant’s RFC on the ALJ’s own view of the record. The court therefore remanded the case for further proceedings. 21 Pages. Judge Paul J. Barbadoro.


SUBROGATION

12/18/15
Bank of America, N.A. v. Citizens Bank
Case No. 14 cv 455 PB, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 233

This case arose from a series of loans issued to nonparty Linda Burke that were secured by mortgages on Burke’s home. After Burke defaulted on her loans, her lenders Bank of America and Citizens Bank sought to foreclose on her property. Before initiating foreclosure, however, Bank of America brought this suit to determine which bank’s lien had first priority position, and thus the first right to the proceeds from the foreclosure sale. On cross motions for summary judgment, the court granted judgment for Bank of America. It ruled that the doctrine of equitable subrogation entitled its lien to first priority position. 15 pages. Judge Paul J. Barbadoro.

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