Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law
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In 2019, the Oxnard city council adopted a resolution placing Measure B on the March 2020 ballot. Measure B sought to extend the mayor’s term to four years and to establish a limit of three terms for city council members. Two weeks later, Starr delivered an initiative petition to the city council. Starr’s initiative would not allow a person to indefinitely alternate between mayor and council member without a break and would establish a combined two-term limit for mayor and council member. The Ventura County Elections Division certified the signatures on Starr’s initiative petition. Instead of placing Starr’s initiative on the ballot, in January 2020, the city exercised its option under Elections Code section 9215(a) to adopt the initiative as an ordinance without alteration but did not remove Measure B from the ballot. The voters adopted Measure B, so it prevailed over the terms of Starr’s initiative previously adopted as an ordinance, and the term limits provided in Starr’s initiative did not take effect.The court of appeal reversed the trial court and ordered that the initiative be placed on the ballot. The city’s actions, rendering the ordinance a nullity, deprived the voters of the opportunity to decide the issue of term limits. View "Starr v. Chaparro" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, David Shawver, Brooke Paz, Ryan Hoskins, and Amanda McGuire brought two petitions for writ of mandate challenging the constitutionality of legislative amendments made to the procedures governing the recall of state officers. Petitioners began a recall proceeding in April 2017 with the aim of obtaining certification in August 2017 for the November 2017 election. The Legislature changed the law in June 2017 by passing Senate Bill No. 96 (2017-2018 Reg. Sess.). Petitioners filed a writ petition in case No. C085176, challenging the constitutionality of Senate Bill No. 96 on single-subject grounds. The Court of Appeal issued an order temporarily staying the enforcement of the amendments to the Elections Code effected by Senate Bill No. 96. On August 24, 2017, the Legislature enacted similar revisions to the recall procedures by adopting Senate Bill No. 117 (2017-2018 Reg. Sess.), a bill providing for appropriations related to the budget bill. Petitioners filed a writ petition in case No. C085381, challenging the retroactive application of Senate Bill No. 117’s Elections Code amendments, arguing the amendments impaired their right to a speedy recall, denied them due process, and were not a valid budget-related bill that could be passed by a majority vote and take effect immediately. The Court of Appeal consolidated both cases and issued an order directing the parties to address the following question: “Does the Legislature of the State of California have the authority to (1) amend the budget bill by a majority vote, and (2) adopt ‘other bills providing for appropriations related to the budget bill’ to become effective immediately by a majority vote.” The parties complied. After review, the Court of Appeal found no grounds upon which it could grant relief, and denied both petitions. View "Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. v. Weber" on Justia Law

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Proposition 13 and Proposition 218 amended the California Constitution to require that any special tax adopted by a local government entity take effect only if approved by a two-thirds vote of the electorate. The court of appeal recently interpreted these constitutional provisions “as coexisting with, not displacing, the people’s power to enact initiatives by majority vote” and held that a measure placed on the ballot as a local citizens’ initiative requires a majority, not a supermajority, vote to pass.Sixty percent of San Franciscans voting on Proposition G— an initiative entitled “Parcel Tax for San Francisco Unified School District”—approved the measure. San Francisco filed suit to establish that Proposition G was valid. The complaint against “All Persons Interested” was answered by Nowak, who argued that Proposition G is invalid because it failed to garner the two-thirds vote required by Proposition 13 and Proposition 218. Nowak also contended that a provision of Proposition 218 unique to parcel taxes, (art. XIII D, 3(a)), requires a two-thirds vote of the electorate to enact Proposition G. Nowak sought to distinguish the earlier decisions on the grounds that Proposition G was conceived and promoted by local government officials and was not a valid citizens’ initiative. The court of appeal rejected all of Nowak’s arguments, standing by its earlier decisions. View "City & County of San Francisco v. All Persons Interested in Matter of Prop. G" on Justia Law

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The 1993 National Voter Registration Act, 52 U.S.C. 20501(b)(1), requires states to register voters for federal elections, including “by application in person” at designated state offices. Each state must designate all offices that provide public assistance, all offices that provide state-funded programs primarily engaged in providing services to persons with disabilities, and “other offices. ” Each designated agency must offer certain voter registration services and, in California, must assign an employee to be responsible for the agency’s compliance (Elec. Code, 2406.) California’s Secretary of State coordinates the state’s responsibilities under the Act.The plaintiffs sought additional designations. The Secretary committed to designating as voter registration agencies programs for students with disabilities at community colleges, certain county welfare departments, and the Office of Services to the Blind. The trial court held, and the court of appeal affirmed, that the Secretary had a mandatory duty to designate as voter registration agencies state offices that administer General Assistance or General Relief programs and California Student Aid Commission Financial Aid Programs, as well as all private entities under contract to provide services on behalf of a voter registration agency. The court found that no mandatory designation duty existed as to offices administering the California Department of Education Nutrition Programs, special education offices, and Area Agencies on Aging. View "Senior Disability Action v. Weber" on Justia Law

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After a political action committee and two political candidates successfully campaigned for a ballot measure in a Redondo Beach municipal election, two citizens filed suit against the committee and the candidates, claiming the candidates had controlled the committee, which had used an improper title for itself. The trial court ruled in favor of the committee and candidates, awarding them attorney fees.In consolidated appeals, the Court of Appeal concluded that the nonparties have standing to appeal the judgment; substantial evidence supported the trial court's finding that Rescue was a general purpose committee and that neither candidate controlled it; and the trial court acted beyond its authority by issuing a judgment against nonparties to the action. The court affirmed the trial court's award of attorney fees to defendants, who were unquestionably the prevailing party. Finally, the court denied the request for sanctions because the appeal of the attorney fees was not frivolous. View "Travis v. Brand" on Justia Law

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Xavier Becerra and his election committee (collectively, Becerra) successfully defended a petition for writ of mandate brought by Eric Early and his election committee (collectively, Early) seeking to remove Becerra as a candidate for California's Attorney General on the November 2018 ballot. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's decision denying the petition. Early alleged that Becerra was ineligible for the office of Attorney General because his state bar status was “inactive” during the five years preceding the election and therefore he was not “admitted to practice” in the state as required for that period under Government Code section 12503. We held that the phrase “admitted to practice” in the statute “refers to the event of admission to the bar and the status of being admitted, and does not require engagement in the ‘actual’ or ‘active’ practice of law.” Becerra brought a motion for attorney fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5, which the trial court granted awarding Becerra $69,718 in attorney fees. "Becerra's successful defense of the petition enforced an important public right and conferred a significant benefit on the general public as required by subdivision (a) of section 1021.5. . . . Further, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining under subdivision (b) of section 1021.5 that the financial burden Becerra incurred in defending Early’s suit outweighed any pecuniary benefit in the form of the salary paid to the Attorney General or otherwise." View "Early v. Bacerra" on Justia Law

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After garnering sufficient voter signatures to qualify, a proposed initiative entitled “Universal Childcare for San Francisco Families Initiative” was placed on the city’s June 2018 ballot as Proposition C. The initiative sought to impose an additional tax on certain commercial rents to fund early childcare and education. Approximately 51 percent of the votes cast were in favor of Proposition C. In August 2018, opponents filed suit to invalidate Proposition C on the ground that it needed a two-thirds majority vote to pass.The court of appeal affirmed summary judgment in favor of the city. While Proposition C imposes the type of tax that, if submitted to the voters by the Board of Supervisors, would need a two-thirds majority vote to pass, neither Proposition 13 nor Proposition 218 imposed such a requirement on a tax imposed by initiative. The absence of a constitutional provision expressly authorizing majority approval of local voter initiatives is immaterial. The City Charter does not impose a super-majority requirement View "Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association v. City and County of San Francisco" on Justia Law

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Five Asian-American residents sued the City of Santa Clara (City) contending that at-large elections for the office of city council violated the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (Elec. Code, 14025-14032). The trial court agreed that occurrences of racially polarized voting impaired the ability of Asian-American voters, as a result of vote dilution, to elect their preferred candidates to Santa Clara’s seven-member city council. It ordered the City to implement district-based city council elections and awarded attorney fees and costs to the plaintiffs totaling more than $3 million.The court of appeal affirmed. Racially polarized voting in five of 10 city council elections satisfied the standard for a cognizable voting rights claim, which required a showing that the majority voting bloc in Santa Clara’s electorate “usually” voted to defeat the candidate preferred by Asian-American voters. The trial court did not err in assigning more weight to certain elections and appropriately used statistical evidence to support its findings of racially polarized voting. The imposition of “race-based districts” did not violate the Equal Protection Clause nor did it impinge the City’s plenary authority as a charter city under the California Constitution to control the manner and method of electing its officers. View "Yumori-Kaku v. City of Santa Clara" on Justia Law

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The City filed a complaint for declaratory relief to establish whether Measure P, the Fresno Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Tax Ordinance, has been duly enacted through the voters' initiative power. On the same day the City filed its action, FBHC filed its own complaint for declaratory relief and petition for writ of mandate, seeking a declaration declaring that Measure P had been duly enacted.The Court of Appeal consolidated the cases and endorsed the holdings and reasoning of All Persons City and County of San Francisco v. All Persons Interested in the Matter of Proposition C (2020) 51 Cal.App.5th 703, 708. Finding that All Persons was controlling in this case, the court concluded that neither Proposition 13 nor Proposition 218 affects the voters' initiative power, and therefore neither imposes a two-thirds voting requirement on the passage of voter initiatives that impose special taxes. The court rejected the Association's policy argument, noting that the Association's policy concerns are best addressed by the Legislature. The court reversed the judgments; on the City's action, the court ordered the trial court to enter a new judgment in favor of FBHC declaring that Measure P has passed; and on FBHC's action, the court directed the trial court to enter a new judgment granting FBHC's request for declaratory relief and declaring that Measure P has passed. View "City of Fresno v. Fresno Building Healthy Communities" on Justia Law

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In November 2018, the voters in San Francisco passed Proposition A, the Embarcadero Seawall Earthquake Safety Bond, by 82.7 percent of the popular vote. The following spring, Denny filed a lawsuit to set aside Proposition A, alleging that the ballot materials were not fair and impartial, and citing Elections Code section 16100. Specifically, he claimed that the digest prepared by the Ballot Simplification Committee was not impartial; the city should not have included paid ballot arguments in the Voter Information Pamphlet; the ballot question did not include the phrase “shall the measure . . . be adopted”; the ballot question was not impartial and the title should not have been printed in upper case letters; and the ballot question was too long. The trial court dismissed without leave to amend.The court of appeal affirmed. Although Denny labeled his claim statutory misconduct by defendants under section 16100(c), his complaint is actually a challenge to the sufficiency and impartiality of Proposition A’s digest and ballot materials, and that is a claim that can only be raised pre-election. The voters were provided with the full text of Proposition A, so it is assumed that any alleged discrepancies in the ballot materials did not affect the voters’ ability to vote intelligently. View "Denny v. Arntz" on Justia Law