In New Hampshire, your landlord has to give you free* cable

Lally v. Flieder, 986 A.2d 652 (N.H. 2009)

Hey, let’s watch HGTV and get some ideas for the apartment! It’s not like we have to pay for it or anything.

Anyone who has ever been a landlord will think the New Hampshire Supreme Court may have lost its mind. Those who like TV and broadband access a lot may think otherwise.

Awesome apartment with guitars that kick even more ass, yo.

Here’s the story.

A tenant told his landlord that he wasn’t going to pay rent anymore. So the landlord sued for unpaid rent and to get possession of the apartment back. Six days later the landlord disconnected the cable service. Turns out that was a no-no.

The nonpaying tenant countersued the landlord under a New Hampshire law that provides:

No landlord shall willfully cause, directly or indirectly, the interruption or termination of any utility service being supplied to the tenant including, but not limited to water, heat, light, electricity, gas, telephone, sewerage, elevator or refrigeration, whether or not the utility service is under the control of the landlord, except for such temporary interruption as may be necessary while actual repairs are in process or during temporary emergencies.

The trial court ruled in favor of the landlord, finding that cable service was not a protected utility and therefore by disconnecting the service, the landlord had not engaged in unlawful self help.

The tenant sought review with the New Hampshire Supreme Court. On appeal, the court reversed, finding cable service critical to the notion of “habitability.”

The court looked to the language of the statute and found cable service to be like the utilities specifically mentioned. The court observed that the specified utilities “all pertain to the habitability of a dwelling or a person’s well being.”

Right. In the middle of a brutal New Hampshire blizzard, nothing will keep you warm like a hearty dose of the Kardashians. And who doesn’t think the right to surf for porn is every bit as essential to a happy life as not having raw sewage backing up in your kitchen sink.

Apparently the members of the court really like watching TV and surfing the web using a broadband connection:

Modern cable television also pertains to the habitability of a dwelling and a person’s wellbeing. Indeed, many people access essential telephone service, the Internet, news information and entertainment by way of cable. Thus, the unlawful termination of a tenant’s cable television service would be a means of accomplishing a self-help eviction-the very evil the legislature meant to deter.

For these reasons, the court found that the landlord broke the law when it discontinued the nonpaying tenant’s cable service.

*Until the court kicks your ass to the curb.

Apartment photo courtesy Flickr user Jordan Roher under this Creative Commons license.

Relationship status and the law: it’s complicated

Online statements by mother were critical evidence in paternity case

Watermeier v. Moss, 2009 WL 3486426 (Tenn. Ct. App. October 29, 2009)

Under Tennessee law a man can petition the court to determine that he is the father of a child born to a woman who is married to someone else. (Better make sure there is good security in the courthouse parking lot!)

The court will consider a petition filed more than 12 months after the child’s birth untimely if : (1) the mother was married and living with her husband at the time of conception, (2) the mother and her husband “remained together” through the time the petition was filed, and (3) both the mother and her husband file a sworn statement saying the husband is the father.

Petitioner Watermeier asked the court to determine that he was the father of a child born to Appellee, a woman married to someone else. The woman and her husband opposed the petition. The parties did not dispute that she lived with her husband when the baby was conceived. The woman and her husband also both filed purportedly sworn statements that they were the parents of the child. The troublesome issue was whether the husband and wife had “remained together” through the time the petition was filed.

There was no dispute the two had separate residences. But they were not divorced and they testified they had no intention of getting divorced. In any event, the court found that the two had not “remained together” as provided under Tennessee law.

Among the important pieces of evidence the court relied upon in determining whether the two “remained together” were postings that the mother had made to an online dating service. On different occasions she had listed herself as “separated” and “divorced.” The court took these statements to “demonstrate that this is not an intact marriage and the parties have not ‘remained together.'”

So saying that “it’s complicated” might be an understatement, don’t you think?

Photo courtesy Flickr user debaird under this Creative Commons license.

Domain name not tangible property that could satisfy judgment

Palacio del Mar Homeowners Assn., Inc. v. McMahon, — Cal.Rptr.3d —, 2009 WL 1668294 (Cal. App. 4 Dist. June 16, 2009)

A California state court entered a $40,000 judgment against defendant McMahon in favor of plaintiff homeowners association. The homeowners association tried to collect the money from McMahon, seeking a “turnover” of property McMahon owned. Among the items the homeowners association sought was the domain name, registered in the name of McMahon’s wife.

The trial court permitted the domain name to be turned over to the homeowners association to satisfy the judgment. McMahon sought review with the California Court of Appeal. That court reversed and vacated the turnover order.

The court gave several reasons for reversing the lower court. The most interesting reason, however, dealt with the very nature of domain names. The provision in California law allowing turnover of property limits itself to tangible property that can be “levied upon by taking it into custody.” Looking to the case of Network Solutions, Inc. v. Umbro International, Inc., 529 S.E.2d 80 (Va. 2000), the court held that a domain name registration is not property, but merely supplies the intangible contractual right to use a unique domain name for a specified period of time. Even if the registration were property, it was not something that could be taken into custody.

Slamming Wikipedia’s reliability not enough in immigration case

Badasa v. Mukasey, — F.3d —, 2008 WL 3981817 (8th Cir. Aug. 29, 2008)

Illegal alien Badasa sought asylum in the United States. To establish her identity, she submitted to the Immigration Judge a “laissez-passer” issued by the Ethiopian government. Opposing the application for asylum, the Department of Homeland Security submitted a number of items, including a Wikipedia article, to show that a laissez-passer is merely a document issued for a one-time purpose based on information provided by the applicant. The Immigration Judge was not convinced that the laissez-passer established Badasa’s identity, and denied the application for asylum.

Badasa appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which agreed that asylum should be denied. It soundly criticized Wikipedia’s reliability to establish the meaning of the document at issue, but found there was enough other evidence to support the Immigration Judge’s conclusion that Badasa had failed to establish her identity. But the Board of Immigration Appeals failed to discuss this other evidence, therefore running afoul of the administrative law textbook case of SEC v. Chenery, 318 U.S. 80 (1943).

So the Eighth Circuit sent the case back to the Board of Immigration Appeals to make additional findings. The court observed that the Board of Immigration Appeals found that “Badasa was not prejudiced by the [Immigration Judge’s] reliance on Wikipedia, but [the Board of Immigration Appeals] made no independent determination that Badasa failed to establish her identity.” In short, the Board of Immigration Appeals had focused only on why the use of Wikipedia made the case less “solid,” and did not address the lack of solidity found in any of the other evidence connected with the laissez-passer used to establish identity.

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