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Supreme Court uproots decision on lease at Concord’s Rossview tree farm 

  • Trees at Rossview Farm in Concord TIM GOODWIN / Insider staff

  • Rossview Farm is getting ready to open for cut your own Christmas trees on Saturday. Tim Goodwin

  • Rossview Farm is getting ready to open for cut your own Christmas trees on Saturday. Tim Goodwin

  • Rows of trees are seen from the road near Rossview Farm in Concord on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. A message posted on the Rossview Farm website says Christmas trees will not be sold during the 2015 season. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Rows of trees are seen from the road near Rossview Farm in Concord on Saturday. The farm won’t be selling trees this year.(ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ


Thursday, September 28, 2017

By ALYSSA DANDREA

Monitor staff

A judge will revisit whether an oral contract between a son and his parents over management of a Christmas tree farm in West Concord is enforceable under state law.

The years-long family dispute between Don Ross and his parents, Wayne and Ruth Ross, hinges on a brief and ambiguous lease agreement written and signed in June 2006. The agreement was initially just a verbal one between parents and son at Rossview Farm.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the written contact falls short of meeting the statutory requirements set by the Legislature, because it does not specify the duration of the lease. 

Ruth and Wayne Ross maintain the lease was only for one year; conversely, Don Ross contends the 2006 agreement was meant to last until both parents died.

The written contract reads, “We, Wayne and Ruth Ross, lease our farm land on District #5 Road in Concord, NH, to Donald Ross of Rossview Farm LLC for $21,000 per year.”

Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Richard McNamara had ruled in favor of Don Ross, after his parents filed suit to determine their rights to evict him and terminate the lease. Unsatisfied with the lower court’s ruling, Wayne and Ruth Ross took their case to the state’s highest court in summer 2016, challenging McNamara’s ruling on the duration of the lease.

The five Supreme Court justices ruled in their favor Thursday, remanding the case back to McNamara for a closer look.

Until this case, the Supreme Court had never ruled on whether duration is an essential component of a written contract for the sale or lease of land. However, other appellate courts throughout the country have done so, the justices noted.

“We agree with the reasoning of these courts and conclude that the duration of a lease is an essential term that must be expressed in writing to satisfy the statute of frauds,” the justices wrote, citing state law that requires certain contracts be memorialized in writing.

The purpose of the statute of frauds is to prevent parties to a sale or lease of land from disputing the conditions of oral agreements.

The Supreme Court found that McNamara erred by relying on the oral agreement in lieu of the written contract when he decided the term of the lease in the Rossview Farm case. Testimony of a preexisting oral agreement is generally inadmissible to prove an essential element absent from a written contract, the justices said.

Now, the lower court must determine whether the circumstances of this case meet the legal threshold for an exception to the statue of frauds. For example, McNamara will consider whether one party executed the requirements of the oral contract so that it would be fraud for the other side to refuse to fulfill that agreement.

Rossview Farm is a 600-acre farm known for its Christmas trees, and it is listed on the state register of historic places. Under a 2007 agricultural-preservation agreement with the state Division of Resources and Economic Development, the property must remain a working farm, and cannot be sold for other reasons.