Kellett v. Town of Salem, Doc. No. 218-1996-E-203 (Rockingham Super. Ct., July 17, 1996) (Coffey, J.)

Pages: 1 2 3




Laurel G. Kellett and
H. Raymond Kellett, Jr.


Town of Salem

No. 96-E-0203


This action involves a Petition for Relief under RSA 91-A, New Hampshire's Right-to-Know law. Plaintiffs seek certain information that they claim they have requested from the town, in addition to pro se non-attorney costs, travel expenses and hourly fees in the equivalent amount of $75 per hour. Defendant objects and has filed a Motion to Dismiss the Petition under RSA 91-A. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motions.

In deciding whether to grant a Motion to Dismiss, the Court must consider "whether the [plaintiff's] allegations . . . are reasonably susceptible of a construction that would permit recovery." Thomas v. Forest, 136 N.H. 215, 216, 614 A.2d 1064, 1065 (1992) (quotation omitted). We "assume the truth of the plaintiff's well pleaded allegations of fact and . . . construe all reasonable inferences from them most favorably to the plaintiff." Island Shores Estates Condo. Assoc. v. City of Concord, 136 N.H. 300, 303, 615 A.2d 629, 631 (1992).

Plaintiffs allege two violations of the Right-to-Know laws: (1) that the Town of Salem has intentionally violated the letter and/or spirit of RSA 91-A by refusing to provide any [2] additional information as set forth in the letter of Barbara Loughman, Esq. to the Plaintiffs; (2) that the Town failed to respond in a timely manner to Plaintiff's May 10, 1996 "Right To Know Request." The Court finds neither of these allegations to be tenable.

Plaintiffs originally requested certain documentation in a letter of September 17, 1995. The Town promptly responded, first in a letter of October 6, 1995 and then in a letter of October 11, 1995. Both letters from the town responded to the Plaintiffs' requests by stating that they would continue to look for documents based on the vague descriptions of those documents provided by Plaintiffs. The Court notes that RSA 91-A requires that a citizen reasonably describe the records that are requested. Despite Plaintiffs' failure to meet the statutory requirements, the Town did its best to comply with their request. Furthermore, the Town's response did occur reasonably soon after the request. The Right-to-Know Law provides only that when records are immediately available, they be immediately produced to the requesting citizen, and makes no requirement that all requests be met immediately if they are not readily available. Brent v. Paquette, 132 N.H. 415 The Court finds that the Town's ability to locate the records within the short time cited, given the lack of adequate description from Plaintiffs, certainly falls within the bounds of reasonableness. Finally, the Town was under no obligation to provide constantly updated records to Plaintiffs, and did not breach a promise to do so.

Second, the Court finds that Plaintiffs May 10, 1996 letter is a discovery request, not one within the RSA 91-A Right-to-Know provisions. Though the Right-to-Know Law does not require a public agency to gather or compile information from numerous sources, but rather only allows citizens access to review records during business hours on the premises of certain agencies, the Town went beyond its duty to search its files for documents that were only vaguely described. Thus, the Town has not violated the Right-to-Know statute as Plaintiffs allege.

[3] Finally, it is settled in New Hampshire that pro se litigants who are not lawyers are not entitled to the sanction of attorney's fees. See Emerson v. Town of Stratford, 139 N.H. 629, 632 (1995). Accordingly, Plaintiffs will not be compensated for their costs or time in litigating these claims. However, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and DENIES Plaintiff's Petition under RSA 91-A.


Date: July 17, 1996    /s/   

Patricia C. Coffey