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Bar News - November 16, 2016

Supreme Court At-a-Glance


October 2016

Family Law

In the Matter of Paula Geraghty and Kenneth Geraghty
No. 2015-0430
Oct. 20, 2016

  • Whether the Circuit Court erred in applying New Hampshire law to a petition for annulment of a New York marriage, in finding a party’s testimony credible without explanation, in equally dividing the marital estate and in awarding one-half of a retirement account to a party

Five years after they met, the parties were married in New York in 1986. They lived together in New York for five years, before moving to other states and then ultimately residing in New Hampshire.

The parties lived in New Hampshire for five years before the filing of the divorce petition. Thereafter, the respondent filed a petition for annulment of the marriage on the grounds that it had been induced by fraud, alleging that the petitioner did not tell him she had participated in prostitution, illegal drug use and certain medical procedures before the marriage.

The respondent argued that the trial court erred in applying New Hampshire rather than New York law to the petition for annulment. In reaching its decision, the Court used the choice-influencing considerations of 1) predictability of results; 2) maintenance of reasonable orderliness and good relationship among the states in our federal system; 3) simplification of the judicial task; 4) advancement by the court of its own state’s governmental interest rather than those of other states; and 5) the court’s preference for what it regards as the sounder rule of law. The Court affirmed the trial court’s application of New Hampshire law to the petition for annulment.

The respondent argued that it was error for the trial court to deny his petition for annulment. The Court found that the trial court correctly applied New Hampshire law and therefore, did not address the respondent’s assertions, which relied on New York law. Additionally, it was held that the respondent did not demonstrate reversible error in the trial court’s denial of the petition under New Hampshire law.

The Court further held that the trial court did not commit an unsustainable exercise of discretion when it accepted as credible the petitioner’s testimony that she had informed the respondent of certain medical procedures before the marriage over the respondent’s conflicting testimony. The respondent argued that the trial court unsustainably exercised its discretion in its equal division of the marital estate where, according to him, he had contributed more to the acquisition of the marital estate, the parties relationship was not an economic partnership, the parties standard of living did not depend on certain of his stock proceeds, and certain assets were maintained as his separate property.

The respondent felt the trial court should have applied the deviation factors in RSA 458:16-a to support a greater percentage award of the marital estate to him. The Court found that the trial court correctly relied on many of the statutory factors in ordering an equal division of the marital estate.

Finally, the Court rejected the respondent’s argument that the trial court erred in sua sponte dividing one of his retirement accounts because there was no support offered for his claim that he would suffer adverse tax consequences as a result of the decree. Further, the Court found that the trial court did not err in dividing the retirement account even where neither party had requested such a division, because the court was not required to accept either party’s proposed decree.

Jon N. Strasburger, Manchester (by brief and orally) for the petitioner. Doreen F. Connor, Manchester, for the respondent.

Personal Injury

William Weaver & a. v. Randall Stewart & a.
No. 2015-0335
Oct. 27, 2016

  • Whether the trial court erred in granting the defendants’ motions for summary judgment regarding the plaintiffs’ negligence claims against the Town of Pelham, its police officers and the towing company that released the defendant driver’s car to him following his arrest for operating under the influence

After being struck on their motorcycles head-on at 12 p.m. by Randall Stewart, the plaintiffs, husband and wife, were severely injured and the wife died from her injuries. Stewart failed a field sobriety test administered at the accident scene, and blood samples drawn contained a combination of drugs, including Xanax. Stewart had been arrested the night before this accident by defendant Derek Gioia, a Pelham Police officer, for driving under the influence.

Defendant Gioia called defendant Woody’s Auto Repair and Towing to tow Stewart’s vehicle from the road where the stop occurred. Gioia transported an impaired Stewart home at 1:30 a.m. Stewart called Gioia at 6:49 a.m. and 7:23 a.m. to ask about picking up his car and, according to Gioia, sounded better than the night before. Between 8:30 a.m. and 10 a.m., Stewart paid the towing and storage charges and picked up his car from Woody’s. The owner did not observe Stewart to be impaired at that time. At 11:19 a.m., just before the accident, Stewart left an incoherent voicemail for Gioia.

The plaintiffs’ suit included negligence claims against Officer Gioia, Pelham Police Chief Joseph Roark and the Town of Pelham (the “Pelham defendants”), including negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle. Over the plaintiffs’ objections, the trial court granted the Pelham defendants motion for summary judgment on the negligent entrustment claims. The Pelham defendants argued that they were immune from liability under RSA 507-B, because the plaintiffs’ claims did not arise out of their ownership, occupation, maintenance or operation of motor vehicles or premises, that they were entitled to official immunity under the common law and that the plaintiffs offered no evidence that any act or omission by them proximately caused the accident.

Although the trial court did not agree that the Pelham defendants were immune under RSA 507-B or the common law, the trial court granted summary judgment because of the lack of evidence that they were the proximate cause of the accident that caused the plaintiffs’ injuries. The trial court also granted Woody’s motion for summary judgment and agreed that Woody’s did not violate RSA 262:40 because the vehicle was towed pursuant to RSA 262:32 rather than impounded under RSA 262:40. The Court also agreed that even if Woody’s owed the plaintiffs a duty, there was insufficient evidence of any breach, because there was no evidence that Woody knew or should have known of Stewart’s impairment.

The plaintiffs failed to set forth specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial and relied solely on conjecture of Stewart’s condition when he spoke to Gioia by phone and conjecture of his condition while at Woody’s. Therefore, the trial court’s grant of summary judgment for the Pelham defendants was affirmed.

The plaintiffs also claimed that Woody’s violated RSA 262:40 when they gave Stewart his car without prior authorization, but after interpreting the statutes at issue, the Court agreed that the undisputed facts established that the car had been towed pursuant to RSA 262:32 and not impounded pursuant to RSA 262:40. Therefore, Woody’s did not need authorization to release the car. The Court did not decide whether a negligent entrustment claim can extend to a non-owner of a vehicle like Woody’s, because there was no evidence that Woody’s knew or should have known of Stewart’s alleged impairment when they released his car.

The Court also agreed that the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment on the plaintiffs’ negligence claim against Woody’s, because there was no evidence Woody’s knew or should have known of Stewart’s alleged impairment when they returned his car.

Joseph F. McDowell III, Mark Morissette (by brief and orally) and Heather Menezes, Manchester for the plaintiffs. Brian J.S. Cullen (by brief and orally) and Shelagh C.N. Michaud, Nashua, for defendants Town of Pelham, Derek Gioia and Joseph Roark. Michael P. Johnson (by brief and orally) and Quinn E. Kelly, Manchester, for defendant, Woody’s Auto Repair & Towing Inc.

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