Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court

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Petitioner Kelly Hagenbuch challenged the termination of her food stamp benefits by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (department). The department terminated the benefits because it found that her income exceeded the maximum amount permitted by the program. In calculating petitioner’s income, the department included distributions from an irrevocable trust, of which petitioner was the sole beneficiary, that had been made by the trustee to third parties. These distributions included payments for trust expenses and for legal fees that the petitioner had incurred to obtain public benefits. This case presented an issue of first impression in New Hampshire: whether a distribution made by the trustee of an irrevocable trust to third parties counted as income to the trust beneficiary for the purpose of determining food stamp benefits. The narrow question before the New Hampshire Supreme Court was whether the trust distributions were “owed” to the petitioner. The Court did not decide the validity of the premise underlying the department’s argument—that because the money used to establish the Trust was derived from the settlement of the petitioner’s personal injury lawsuit, the Trust was established with the petitioner’s “own funds.” Even assuming that the premise was correct, the Court concluded that the vendor payment exclusion applied to the trust distributions because the regulations do not recognize the distinction that the department attempts to draw regarding trusts originally funded by the household. In this case, given that the distributions made by the trustee to third parties were not owed to the petitioner—and therefore, were excluded vendor payments—the department should have excluded the trust distributions from the petitioner’s income. Accordingly, the Court reversed the presiding officer’s decision that the department properly counted the trust distributions as income. View "Petition of Kelly Hagenbuch" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the New Hampshire Supreme Court's review called for the Court to determine the constitutionality of New Hampshire Administrative Rules, He-W 654.04(c). The rule required DHHS to include a child’s federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) in the calculation of a family’s eligibility for benefits under the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF), as administered by the State’s Financial Assistance to Needy Families program (FANF). Plaintiffs Carrie Hendrick and Jamie Birmingham were mothers whose children received SSI and FANF benefits, and whose benefits were ultimately cut by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Plaintiffs brought this lawsuit on behalf of themselves and their children, seeking a declaratory judgment that DHHS’s “inclusion of children’s SSI in FANF assistance group income is unlawful and void” pursuant to applicable federal law. In addition, plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that Rule He-W 654.04 “is invalid because it impairs [their] legal rights.” Plaintiffs sought a permanent injunction enjoining DHHS from including children’s SSI in FANF assistance group income and an award of attorney’s fees “because this litigation will result in a substantial benefit to the public.” After requesting that the Solicitor General of the United States file an amicus brief in this matter, and after reviewing that brief, the New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed with the Solicitor General that the Supremacy Clause did not permit the State to redirect federal benefits as required by Rule He-W 654.04(c). The rule, by counting a disabled child’s SSI benefits as income available to the child’s “assistance group,” treated the child’s benefits as a source of income for the entire household. The rule, thereby, reduced a household’s TANF benefit by one dollar for every dollar in SSI that was received by a disabled child in the household. Because the rule “stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress,” the New Hampshire Court held that Rule He-W 654.04(c) was preempted by federal law and, thus, invalid to the extent that it required inclusion of children’s SSI as income to the TANF assistance group for the purpose of determining eligibility for TANF benefits. View "Hendrick v. New Hampshire Dept. of Health & Human Svcs." on Justia Law

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Petitioner Estate of Thea Braiterman filed a petition for writ of certiorari challenging a final decision of the Administrative Appeals Unit (AAU) of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), that upheld the determination that applicant Thea Braiterman was ineligible for Medicaid-Old Age Assistance (Medicaid-OAA) benefits because her assets exceeded the eligibility threshold. On appeal, petitioner argued that the AAU erroneously found that the Thea G. Braiterman Irrevocable Trust (the Trust) was includable as an asset for the purpose of determining applicant’s eligibility for Medicaid-OAA benefits. Petitioner argued, and DHHS did not dispute, that petitioner’s challenge was not moot even though applicant had died prior to the conclusion of this matter. Given the facts of this case, the New Hampshire Supreme Court could not say that there were no circumstances under which payments from the Trust could be made “for the benefit” of the applicant. “Finally, we take this opportunity to stress that we have no doubt that self-settled, irrevocable trusts may, if so structured, so insulate trust assets that those assets will be deemed unavailable to the settlor.” The Trust in this case was not such a vehicle. In the Supreme Court's view, the Trust, as structured, allowed applicant “a degree of discretionary authority that would . . . permit [her] to enjoy her assets, preserve those assets for her heirs, and receive public assistance, to, in effect, have her cake and eat it too." As such, the Court denied certiorari. View "Petition of Estate of Thea Braiterman" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Ellen St. Louis appealed the decision of the New Hampshire Department of Employment Security (DES) Appellate Board (board) that denied her claim for unemployment benefits. Early 2009, Petitioner received a disciplinary notice stating that her conduct was not in line with company policy because she appeared to be asleep at work and was argumentative when her trainer instructed her regarding her faulty soldering work. Subsequently, Petitioner informed a human resources representative that she was having difficulties breathing and that she was depressed. The human resources representative recommended she take medical leave. Petitioner claims that when she returned to work she could no longer perform soldering work because the fumes caused headaches, and caused her to shake, cough, and have difficulty breathing. The record indicated that she never provided Insight Technology with any medical records or doctor's instructions regarding her breathing problems or opinions regarding her inability to do soldering work. Petitioner was ultimately terminated for poor work performance. She applied for unemployment benefits but was denied. After an unsuccessful appeal to the Board, Petitioner appealed to the Supreme Court. Upon review, the Court found that the record supported the determination that Petitioner was terminated for misconduct, and that there was no error in the Board's decision. View "Appeal of Ellen St. Louis " on Justia Law

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Petitioner Patricia Kalar petitioned the Supreme Court to challenge the reduction of her benefits by Respondent New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. The Department conducted an inquiry into Petitioner's income and expenses as part of a mandatory, periodic "recertification" process for determining Petitioner's food stamp benefits. At the last inquiry, the Department determined that Petitioner's food stamp benefit should be reduced. Petitioner argued on appeal that the Department erred in its calculation that served as the basis of its reduction determination. Upon review, the Supreme Court could not conclude that the reduction in Petitioner's benefits was due to miscalculations by the Department. The Court affirmed the Department's decision.

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Petitioner Hartford Insurance Company (Hartford) appealed orders of the Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) that denied it recovery from the State Special Fund for Second Injuries for injuries to Claire Hamel and John Rygiel. Ms. Hamel worked as an assembly person for a motor manufacturing company. She was temporarily disabled for psychiatric reasons. She continued to work until her second injury for degenerative disc disease. Mr. Rygiel worked as a truck driver for a mobile MRI unit. Mr. Rygiel had Type II diabetes that required medication. Mr. Rygiel sustained an employment-related injury to his wrist. In both Ms. Hamel and Mr. Rygiel's cases, Hartford applied for and was denied reimbursement from the second injury fund. Hartford appealed both the Hamel and Rygiel decisions by CAB. The issue from both cases centered on whether state law allowed the CAB to consider an employee's past job performance as evidence that his or her preexisting impairment would not be a hindrance to obtaining employment if that employee became unemployed. The Supreme Court concluded that the employee's ability to perform his or her existing job is not determinative of whether the preexisting impairment was a hindrance to obtaining employment. The Court found that the CAB erroneously relied on the employee's ability when it denied Hartford's claims for reimbursement. Accordingly, the Court vacated the CAB's decisions in both the Hamel and Rygiel cases and remanded the cases for further proceedings.

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Petitioner Richard Lister appealed the recommendation of the Family Division Master that modified his child support obligations, and that refused to grant him credit for Social Security benefits received by his adult son. The son lives with his mother, Marianne Lister, and receives Supplemental Social Security (SSI) income of approximately $450 per month. As a disabled adult, the son is eligible for child support so long as he remains dependent. The sonâs SSI is reduced by the amount of child support he receives. In 2010, Mrs. Lister requested an increase in child support from Mr. Lister. At that time, Mr. Lister argued that he should receive a dollar for dollar credit for the sonâs SSI benefits when considering how much more he should be obliged to pay. The case Mr. Lister relied on to make his âcreditâ argument depended on the parentâs status as either retired or disabled. In this case, the son receives SSI benefits because of his own disability. The family division modified the child support obligation and refused to give Mr. Lister âcreditâ in the amount of his sonâs SSI benefits. On appeal, Mr. Lister argues that the family division made a mistake in reaching its decision to modify his support obligation. The Supreme Court agreed with the family divisionâs analysis of Mr. Listerâs case, and affirmed the divisionâs decision.