×

New Hampshire newspapers take clash over printing contract to court



InDepthNH
Wednesday, April 03, 2019

BRENTWOOD, N.H. — Seacoast Newspapers Inc. is suing the Union Leader Corp. for pulling out of its printing contract three months early while still owing Seacoast $1.6 million, according to electronic records on file in Rockingham County Superior Court.

Seacoast, which publishes Foster’s Daily Democrat and the Portsmouth Herald, is also suing Newspapers of New England Inc., publisher of the Concord Monitor, for its alleged role in the contract dispute. The Monitor started printing the Union Leader on March 24 for that Monday’s edition with printing costs 40 percent less than Seacoast, according to court records.

“(Seacoast Newspapers) will be forced by the unlawful actions of (Union Leader) to close its Dover, N.H., facility resulting in the loss of employment for as many as 49 employees, because the Union Leader on six days notice will cease using that facility to print its newspaper as of Monday,” according to a motion seeking a temporary restraining order to force the Union Leader to stay with Seacoast until the end of the contract.

The Union Leader began to fall behind in its payments soon after entering into the contract in April 2013, after closing its own press operations in Manchester, according to court records.

Seacoast Newspapers alleges breach of contract and undue enrichment against the Union Leader and tortious interference with contract relations against the Monitor.

In the Union Leader’s opposition to the temporary restraining order, attorney Gregory Sullivan wrote that between Feb. 21, 2018, and Feb. 21, 2019, Seacoast failed to produce an industry-standards product to the Union Leader on 41 different occasions.

Seacoast’s attorney Craig Nolan argued in court that they were small errors that were worked out during twice-weekly meetings. He said all Seacoast wanted for now was an order that would keep the Dover plant open while it looks for replacement business.

Following the March 25 hearing, Judge Andrew Schulman denied Seacoast’s motion for an emergency restraining order to force the Union Leader to finish out the contract. Seacoast failed to prove an emergency order was necessary to avoid irreparable harm, he said, and the company has other remedies.

Schulman said Seacoast likely would have been forced to close the plant anyway on July 2, the end of the contract, since there are no customers waiting in the wings to print newspapers.

“(Seacoast) has a hope, not an expectancy of attracting new business in a declining industry (i.e. newsprint.),” Schulman said in his order. “Seacoast plainly has an adequate remedy of law for the alleged breach of contract. If it prevails it will receive its full expectancy damages plus interest and contractual attorney fees.”

In late January, the Monitor’s sister publication, the Valley News, which is also owned by Newspapers of New England, moved its printing from West Lebanon to the Monitor’s new press in Penacook.

Schulman encouraged the Union Leader and Seacoast Newspapers Inc. to talk to each other outside the courtroom.

“I will allow the case to proceed, but I would encourage the parties to try and work things out because I think that (Seacoast Newspapers) have shown a reasonable likelihood of prevailing on the merits of the breach of contract claim. I think you guys should talk, OK,” Schulman said at the end of the hearing.

Seacoast’s Executive Editor Howard Altschiller declined comment, and Union Leader publisher Joe McQuaid didn’t respond to an email request for comment.

InDepthNH.org is a nonprofit news site published by the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism. Nancy West can be reached at nancywestnews@gmail.com.