In the case of Fortune Laurel, LLC vs. High Liner Foods, Inc., the New Hampshire Supreme Court, on May 8, 2020, issued an opinion which greatly expanded the tools available to the a plaintiff attempting to collect or secure a judgment. In Fortune Laurel, the plaintiff brought suit against a Chinese corporation for breach of contract and consumer fraud. The Chinese corporation had assets in the form of contact payments in New Hampshire. The plaintiff sued the Chinese corporation in New Hampshire, and as part of the lawsuit, obtained a pre-judgment attachment over those payments. The Superior Court determined that it did not have personal jurisdiction over the Chinese corporation and dismissed the lawsuit. However, the Superior Court ruled that it could continue to exercise “quasi in rem” jurisdiction over the attached funds, and they kept the attachment in place.
The Chinese corporation appealed and the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the attachment stating that while the Chinese corporation had no connection with New Hampshire, their property in the form of contact payments were located in New Hampshire. Therefore, the Court could attach those funds to secure a judgment, even if that judgment was issued by another Court in a different state.
Previously, plaintiffs would have to secure a final judgment against a defendant in for a foreign state, and then attempt to register that judgment in states where the defendant had property or assets. However, given the time it would take to secure a judgment, the defendant would have the ability to move or hide assets. With the Fortune Laurel decision, a plaintiff can now obtain a prejudgment attachment of a defendant’s asset, so long as the defendant has property located in the state issuing the attachment. This greatly increases the likelihood that a plaintiff will have a collectable judgment when the case is litigated to conclusion.
It is important to note that merely having property in New Hampshire does not automatically grant a trial court the ability to issue an attachment. The plaintiff must still demonstrate that the defendant has contacts with New Hampshire that relate to its cause of action, the defendant has purposely availed themselves to the protection of New Hampshire law, and it would be fair and reasonable to require the defendant to defend the lawsuit in New Hampshire. If the presence of the property in New Hampshire is merely fortuitous (i.e. the property was not directed to New Hampshire by the defendant), the plaintiff may not be able to secure a prejudgment attachment under the Fortune Laurel decision.
Andrew J. Piela is a Director at Hamblett & Kerrigan, P.A. Mr. Piela concentrates his practice in civil litigation, family law, probate and land use litigation. You can reach Attorney Piela by e-mail at [email protected].