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Anderson v. Robitaille

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

March 8, 2019

NATALIE ANDERSON
v.
ADAM ROBITAILLE

          Submitted: November 13, 2018

          9th Circuit Court-Nashua District Division

          Natalie Anderson, self-represented party, by brief.

          Stokes Wagner, ALC, of Atlanta, Georgia (Karl M. Terrell on the brief), and Snow Law Office, of Nashua (R. Brian Snow on the brief), for the defendant.

          HICKS, J.

         The plaintiff, Natalie Anderson, appeals the Circuit Court's (Moore, J.) entry of judgment in favor of the defendant, Adam Robitaille, on her petition seeking damages and other relief pursuant to RSA chapter 540-A. See RSA ch. 540-A (2007 & Supp. 2018). The primary issue on appeal is whether the plaintiff and her husband were "tenants" entitled to remedies under that chapter. The trial court concluded that they were not "tenants," and, thus, were not entitled to RSA chapter 540-A remedies. We affirm.

         We briefly recite the facts necessary to decide this appeal. The defendant is the general manager of the Homewood Suites by Hilton (Homewood) hotel in Nashua. Homewood is a branded product of Hilton Worldwide, Inc. and is an all-suite residential-style hotel. Individuals may stay at Homewood for durations of any length, including extended stays.

         In November 2015, the plaintiff and her husband began residing at Homewood. According to the plaintiff, she and her husband shared a full-size apartment with a fully-equipped kitchen, a separate bedroom, separate bathroom, spacious living room, and a dining area. They were charged $84 per night plus tax for the unit. Their stay was originally intended to last approximately one year. The plaintiff asserts that their stay was extended until May 2017.

         According to the plaintiff, on or about January 4, 2017, the defendant informed her by e-mail that her stay would not be extended past January 6. The plaintiff contends that the deadline was later extended to January 10. She asserts that she and her husband were told that if they did not leave on January 10, the police would be called.

         The plaintiff brought the instant petition under RSA chapter 540-A on January 9, requesting, in addition to statutory damages, that the trial court enjoin the defendant from ejecting her and her husband from their residential unit.

         The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff's action, to which she objected. Both parties appended to their pleadings documentary evidence to support their assertions. At a January 18 hearing, the parties agreed that the dispositive issue before the court was whether the plaintiff and her husband were "tenants" entitled to remedies under RSA chapter 540-A. They further agreed that the court could decide the matter based upon the parties' pleadings. The trial court found in favor of the defendant, concluding that the plaintiff and her husband were not "tenants" entitled to RSA chapter 540-A remedies. The plaintiff unsuccessfully moved for reconsideration, and this appeal followed.

         Resolving the plaintiff's appeal requires that we engage in statutory interpretation. We review the trial court's statutory interpretation de novo. See State v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 168 N.H. 211, 223 (2015). In matters of statutory interpretation, we are the final arbiter of the intent of the legislature as expressed in the words of the statute considered as a whole. Conduent State & Local Solutions v. N.H. Dep't of Transp., 171 N.H., (decided Oct. 16, 2018) (slip op. at 5). We first look to the language of the statute itself, and, if possible, construe that language according to its plain and ordinary meaning. Id. Moreover, we do not consider words and phrases in isolation, but rather within the context of the statute as a whole. Id. This enables us to better discern the legislature's intent and to interpret statutory language in light of the policy or purpose sought to be advanced by the statutory scheme. Id.

         We interpret legislative intent from the statute as written and will not consider what the legislature might have said or add language that the legislature did not see fit to include. Id. Absent an ambiguity, we will not look beyond the language of the statute to discern legislative intent. Id. We also construe all parts of a statute together to effectuate its overall purpose and avoid an absurd or unjust result. Id. However, we do not construe statutes in isolation; instead, we attempt to construe them in harmony with the overall statutory scheme. In the Matter of Aldrich & Gauthier, 156 N.H. 33, 35 (2007).

         RSA chapter 540-A "regulates the relationship between landlords and tenants of 'residential' premises." Hill v. Dobrowolski, 125 N.H. 572, 574 (1984). It defines a landlord as one who "rents or leases," and a tenant as one "to whom a landlord rents or leases," such property. Id. (quotations omitted); see RSA 540-A:1, I-II (2007). RSA 540-A:2 generally prohibits a landlord from "willfully violat[ing] a tenant's right to quiet enjoyment of his tenancy" and from willfully "attempt[ing] to circumvent lawful procedures for eviction under RSA [chapter] 540." RSA 540-A:2 (2007). RSA 540-A:3 "forbids a series of specific acts," such as "willfully denying a tenant access to and possession of the ...


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