LACONIA — A Plymouth man has filed a lawsuit against the NH Snowmobile Association claiming the organization’s governing documents were changed without proper notice, depriving members of the chance to have a full and fair opportunity to review and discuss them.
Donald Leclair, of 1540 River Road, alleges the proposed changes were not submitted to the members in writing. As a result, the amendments changing the dues and membership structure are not valid despite a special meeting vote by delegates approving the amendments.
The suit stems from an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office that concluded with the NHSA entering into an Assurance of Discontinuance agreement that set specific compliance obligations.
The investigation was sparked in 2016 after the state received complaints that the association’s operation of its website to solicit and procure online sales for local snowmobile clubs allegedly violated state antitrust and consumer protection laws.
In 2015, the association developed an online sales portal on its website to provide an easy way for people to join their local snowmobile clubs. The clubs decided to charge unified dues of $35 which included membership in the NHSA. The association remitted $25 to the local club, keeping $10 plus a $2 transaction fee for each membership processed.
Snowmobile owners receive a $30 discount per snowmobile registration by joining a club and showing proof of membership at the time of registration. The online membership process did not make it clear they would be eligible for the discount by being a member of a local club or the association alone.
After signing the agreement in January, the suit claims NHSA took certain actions that it claimed were in response to the Assurance of Discontinuance, including amendments to the association’s constitution and bylaws.
Under terms of the agreement, the association asserts that snowmobile clubs have the ability to set the price of their own membership dues, have access to membership sales through an online market hosted by the association, and can provide members the option to receive the benefits the association offers with its own memberships. That includes the organization’s magazine, news blasts, seminars and other information.
The agreement also bars the association from soliciting or assisting in setting club membership dues and cannot require NHSA membership or participation in the association’s online portal.
Attorney Edward Philpot Jr., of Laconia, who represents Leclair, asserts that with those changes NHSA has “completely changed the provisions pertaining to dues” and is asking a judge to issue an order declaring the respective rights and obligations of the parties regarding the association’s “attempted” changes to its constitution and bylaws. Philpot is also asking for the court to enjoin the NHSA from implementing the changes until the procedures laid out in the 2016 constitution and bylaws are followed.
The plaintiff has asked for a jury trial and to be awarded attorney’s fees and costs.
“Plaintiff does not claim to have been snookered into voting to approve the Bylaws here, nor to have been induced to change his position in any way based on the alleged misrepresentation. He did not vote in favor of any amendment that he now challenges. His complaint is that others may have been snookered, and if they were, perhaps the vote to amend would not have carried had they known all the facts,” wrote attorney Frank Spinella Jr., of Manchester, who represents the NHSA.
Spinella contends the NHSA is not capable of violating the Consumer Protection Act, noting the Attorney General, acting through the Director of Charitable Trusts, has jurisdiction to sue a noprofit for unfair or deceptive acts or practices, but no private right of action exists under the law governing Unfair Trade Practices.
A hearing on Spinella’s request to dismiss the Unfair Trade Practices count is scheduled to be held this afternoon in Belknap County Superior Court.
According to its governing documents, the Tilton-based NHSA is a nonprofit organization that promotes and fosters safe snowmobiling in the state as well as snowmobile tourism. There are 106 snowmobile clubs affiliated with NHSA, which maintains more than 7,000 miles of trails.