2005 Summer, 76. LEX LOCI A Survey of New Hampshire Supreme Court Decisions.

Author:Bar Journal Author - Attorney Charles A. DeGrandpre
 
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New Hampshire Bar Journal

2005.

2005 Summer, 76.

LEX LOCI A Survey of New Hampshire Supreme Court Decisions

New Hampshire Bar Journal Volume 46, No. 2, Pg. 76 Summer 2005 LEX LOCI A Survey of New Hampshire Supreme Court Decisions Bar Journal Author - Attorney Charles A. DeGrandpre

Baines v. New Hampshire Senate President, opinion issued April 20, 2005, is a brilliantly crafted opinion by Justice Nadeau for a unanimous Court that skillfully navigates the shoals of constitutional interpretation surrounding the enactment of Laws 2004, chapter 200, which increased the uniform rate at which statewide property educational tax would be imposed. The politically nuanced opinion deftly maneuvered its way through some major constitutional questions. In summary, the Court held that certain issues raised by the petitioners [the mayors of certain New Hampshire cities] were "justiciable issues" and, thus, subject to Supreme Court review, but others, concerning the legislators' alleged violation of statutes relating to legislative procedures were "nonjusticiable" because they raised purely political questions.

Front and foremost was the issue whether this bill, amended by a conference committee of the House and Senate, changed the purpose of a Senate bill which did not originally raise taxes to a bill that increased the statewide educational property tax, and thus was a "money bill" which must originate in the House as required by the origination clause of the New Hampshire Constitution, pt. II, art. 18. The Court first brushed aside whether or not the issue of justiciability had been preserved for review stating that "[a]s with other kinds of jurisdictional questions, such as subject matter jurisdiction or sovereign immunity, we may address justiciability even if this issue is raised for the first time on appeal."

On the issue of whether or not the bill violated the origination clause of our Constitution, the Court carefully reviewed the history of both the New Hampshire and federal Constitution provisions and held that the bill at issue was indeed a money bill, but concluded that even though it began and was "designated a Senate bill" it originated in the House. The Court ruled that New Hampshire does not follow the "enrolled bill doctrine." This doctrine holds that the enrolled bill is conclusive proof of proper legislative action, but the Court stated that New Hampshire courts instead would use "legislative journals. . . to determine whether the presumed validity of a bill is refuted. . . . We will not find legislation invalid, however, unless the journals clearly indicate that constitutional procedures were not followed." Using that standard, the Court found that the bill had become a money bill in the conference committee to which the House had appointed a majority of the members and even more significantly, "the journals reveal that 'the bill was first approved in its final form by the House'" before being passed by the Senate.

Moving on to the issue of whether or not the legislature had violated certain statutes relating to its own procedures, the Court held that such questions were non-justiciable questions and the Court refused to consider them.

Finally, responding to the allegations that the bill had been substantially changed from its legislative intent in the enrolled bills committee, the Court dismissed these allegations either for the reason that they embody technical changes or that the Senate Journals were silent to the legislation's intent and, thus, "we must indulge the opposite presumption. Unless the journals clearly indicate that the legislature failed to follow constitutionally mandated procedures, we must presume that it adhered to them."

Whether or not you agree with the Court's conclusions, observers should applaud the decision's masterly craftsmanship regarding the hot button issues presented to it.

For some unexplained reason, the author cannot pass up a probate case, however boring or arcane its principle. King v. Onthank, Jr., opinion issued March 18, 2005, was a case that probate attorneys (and, more significantly, probate paralegals) deal with every day: the valuation date for distribution in an estate. Is it the date of death or is it the date of distribution? In this case, the Supreme Court, relying on the principle that the settlor's intent is determinative of the issue, found that the equal distribution directed between the two children by the testator/settler pointed to valuation as of the distribution date of the trust assets, rather than the date of death. The case involved a frequently encountered situation where the residuary clause provides for a substantially equal...

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