N.H. Supreme Court Upholds Dismissal Of O'Brien Suit Against Dems

Mar 7, 2014

The state’s highest court has unanimously upheld a lower court ruling that scuttled  former House Speaker William O’Brien’s lawsuit against the N.H. Democratic Party over automated phone calls that targeted O’Brien without the proper disclosures.

At issue were 394 calls placed by Democrats in 2010.

The calls were narrated by Democratic chair Ray Buckley, who identified himself, and noted among other things that O’Brien, a Republican, was also seeking to run on the democratic side of the ballot and “join our progressive agenda.”

The calls never said who paid for them.

O’Brien complained to the AG.

Democrats ended up paying a $5000 settlement to the state without admitting any violation of the law.

O’Brien never made the Democratic ballot but easily won election.

He later sued the Democratic party, and sought more $1,182,000 in damages -- $1000 per call, trebled, on the grounds that the Democrats "willfully or knowingly" violated the statute.

The trial court found that N.H.’s robocall law was designed to protect the privacy of the public receiving such messages, not the people mentioned in them.

On appeal, O’Brien pointed to language that refers to “any person injured.”  

He also claimed that as a subject of a call that violated the statute he had standing to sue.

The high court noted that O’Brien never demonstrated or even claimed he was injured, and rejected the argument that being the subject of the call gave him automatic standing.

The ruling, did though, note the robocall law is "arguably unclear" and invited lawmakers to clarify whether people who are the subject of prerecorded messages have standing to sue.