Submitted: March 14, 2013.
Myers Associates, PLLC, of Lebanon (Howard B. Myers on the brief), for the plaintiff.
Law Offices of Simpson & Mulligan, PLLC, of Lebanon (James L. Mulligan on the memorandum of law), for the defendant.
The plaintiff, Robin Plaisted, appeals an order of the Superior Court (Tucker, J.) granting the motion of the defendant, Jeffrey A. LaBrie, to dismiss as time-barred her petition seeking proceeds from the sale of property that she claims to have once owned. We affirm.
The plaintiff alleges the following facts, which we accept as true for purposes of this appeal. Elter-Nodvin v. Nodvin, 163 N.H. 678, 679 (2012). In May 2002, the plaintiff and the defendant entered into a purchase and sale agreement with Ocwen Federal Bank FSB to purchase property located at 10
Nelson Street in Woodsville. The parties initialed each page of the agreement and signed as buyers; however, the defendant signed only on behalf of Blue Star Consulting (Blue Star) – a New Hampshire corporation of which he was the sole shareholder, officer, and director. On July 19, a quitclaim deed listing Blue Star as sole grantee was recorded with the Grafton County Registry of Deeds.
On July 31, the plaintiff wrote, and the defendant cashed, a check made out to "Jeff LaBrie" in the amount of $19, 500. The check noted that it was "[f]rom R. Plaisted for full payment for 50% of 10 Nelson [Street] Property." On August 15, the defendant, as president of Blue Star, signed a "Declaration of Ownership" stating that Blue Star granted to the plaintiff a fifty percent interest in the property. Two years later, on October 15, 2004, Blue Star sold the property for a profit of $98, 855.97 and wired the proceeds to a bank account "[f]or the benefit of Blue Star Consulting (Jeff LaBrie)."
In October 2011, the plaintiff petitioned the trial court, seeking a declaration that she had been a one-half owner of the property, as well as an order requiring the defendant to pay her one-half of the sale proceeds. The defendant moved to dismiss, contending that the plaintiff had "failed to allege either facts or law upon which the Court could conclude . . . that she had, or now has, any claim to title of the subject property, " and, thus, her claim was "personal in nature." He maintained that, since her claim was personal in nature, it was time-barred under the three-year statute of limitations. See RSA 508:4 (2010). The plaintiff objected, arguing that, pursuant to Shuris v. Morgan, 118 N.H. 154 (1978), her claim for the proceeds from the sale of the property was based upon her ownership interest in the property, and, thus, the twenty-year statute of limitations for the recovery of real estate applied. See RSA 508:2 (2010). The trial court granted the defendant's motion, and this appeal followed.
In reviewing the trial court's grant of a motion to dismiss, our standard of review is whether the allegations in the plaintiff's pleadings are reasonably susceptible of a construction that would permit recovery. Kilnwood on Kanasatka Condo. Unit Assoc. v. Smith, 163 N.H. 751, 752 (2012). We assume that the plaintiff's pleadings are true and construe all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to her. Id. We then engage in a threshold inquiry that tests the facts in the petition against the applicable law, and if the allegations constitute a basis for legal relief, we must hold that it was improper to grant the motion to dismiss. Id.
The plaintiff argues that her cause of action is an action for the recovery of real estate, and, thus, the trial court erred in applying the three-year statute of limitations under RSA 508:4 rather than the twenty-year statute of limitations under RSA 508:2. We disagree.
RSA 508:2, I, provides, in relevant part, that "[n]o action for the recovery of real estate shall be brought after 20 years from the time the right to recover first accrued." RSA 508:4, I, provides, in pertinent part, that "all personal actions, except actions for slander or libel, may be brought only within 3 years of the act or omission complained of."
To determine the nature of a cause of action for statute of limitations purposes, we look not to "the form of the action but rather its substance." Wood v. Greaves, 152 N.H. 228, 231 (2005) (quotation, brackets, and ellipsis omitted). In this case, the plaintiff does not seek the recovery of real property. Rather, she seeks her share of the proceeds from the sale of the property. She acknowledges that she is "attempting to recover damages based on a breach of contract and fraud." Nevertheless, relying upon Shuris, she maintains that, because she seeks to establish that she once had an ownership interest in the property, and because her claim for the sale proceeds is based upon that interest, her claims are subject to the twenty-year statute of limitations in RSA 508:2. In support of her argument, she cites the following language from Shuris: "It is true, as defendant argues, that plaintiff seeks money and not the property, but his claim for the money as a substitute for the property rests on his claim of ownership of the property ...