NH Supreme Court Deals Another Blow to Dartmouth “Animal House” Fraternity

In the latest reversal suffered by Alpha Delta, a (former) Dartmouth College fraternity whose antics inspired the 1978 hit film “Animal House,” the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled on April 11 that members of the fraternity, whose official status was revoked by Dartmouth in 2015 for violations of the College’s standards of conduct (specifically, by branding new members with the fraternity’s initials), may no longer reside at the Hanover premises occupied by the fraternity since 1920.  The Court affirmed a Superior Court decision upholding a ruling by the Hanover Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) that once the fraternity’s affiliation with the College was revoked, per the town zoning ordinance the premises could be occupied by no more than three unrelated individuals.  As long as the fraternity was recognized by Dartmouth as “college-approved residential facility,” its members could occupy the house as a student residence in the “institution zoning district… operated in conjunction with an institutional use.”  Once the fraternity’s formal ties with the College were severed, however, the premises became subject to the general provisions of the ordinance relating to occupancy of the premises by unrelated individuals (at least 18 of them, in this case).  The ZBA’s order that the fraternity cease using its property as a residence in violation of the ordinance was thus upheld.  It is worth noting in this regard that the Court rejected the fraternity’s argument that its occupancy of the premises for this purpose constituted a “prior nonconforming use” under the ordinance, due to the fundamental change in circumstances arising from the College’s derecognition of the fraternity.  Among other things, derecognition meant that the premises would no longer be subject to College oversight with respect to matters of health and safety—the protection of which is a fundamental purpose of the zoning ordinance.