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New Hampshire v. Maine

    Brief Fact Summary.

    New Hampshire sued Maine to contest the boundary between the two states established in the 1740 decree, and Maine argued that New Hampshire was barred from changing its position due to claim preclusion.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A party can be barred from defending a position in a suit that is contrary to the position they defended earlier in a suit.

    Facts.

    The 1740 decree established the boundary between New Hampshire and Maine as “up the middle of the Piscataqua River.” There was dispute over what the “middle” of the river meant, and the states determined that the phrase meant “the middle of the main channel of navigation of the Piscataqua River.” New Hampshire sued Maine to contest the boundary, claiming that the “middle” applied to the main branch, not the middle of the channel. Maine asserted that New Hampshire was barred from changing its position due to claim preclusion.

    Issue.

    Whether a party can be barred from defending a position in a suit that is contrary to the position they defended earlier in a suit?

    Held.

    Yes. Maine’s motion to dismiss is granted and New Hampshire is estopped from changing its position. New Hampshire’s previous interpretation with the “middle of the river” is inconsistent with its new position, New Hampshire obtained benefits from the earlier judgment, and New Hampshire would be unfairly advantaged if an inconsistent judgment was offered.

    Discussion.

    Judicial estoppel bars a party from defending a position in a suit that is contrary to the position they defended earlier in a suit. The doctrine was established to prevent a party from taking a position in order to win at one stage within a suit and then taking a different position to win at a later stage in the suit.


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