Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court

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Ryan Frazier ran as a Republican candidate for United States Senate. After the Colorado Secretary of State determined that Frazier had not gathered enough sufficient signatures to appear on the ballot, Frazier challenged the Secretary’s determination under section 1-1-113, C.R.S. (2017), arguing that the Secretary improperly invalidated hundreds of signatures that substantially complied with the Colorado Election Code. Frazier also brought a claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983 (2012) arguing that certain Colorado statutes prohibiting non-resident circulators from gathering signatures violated the First Amendment. Frazier filed an accompanying request for attorney’s fees as authorized by 42 U.S.C. 1988 (2012). The district court ruled that the Secretary had properly invalidated certain signatures such that Frazier could not appear on the primary ballot. Frazier then appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, which remanded for reconsideration of a number of signatures under the appropriate standard. On remand, the district court found that additional signatures substantially complied with the code, providing Frazier with sufficient signatures to appear on the Republican primary ballot for United States Senate. No ruling was made on Frazier’s section 1983 claim. Frazier then sought attorney’s fees pursuant to section 1988. The Secretary opposed the fee request, arguing that federal claims such as section 1983 may not be brought in summary proceedings under section 1-1-113. The district court disagreed, finding Frazier was entitled to an award of attorney’s fees. The Colorado Supreme Court held that where the language of section 1-1-113 allows a claim to be brought against an election official who has allegedly committed a "breach or neglect of duty or other wrongful act" under the Colorado Election Code, it refers to a breach of duty or other wrongful action under the Colorado Election Code, not a section 1983 claim. "Colorado courts remain entirely open for the adjudication of section 1983 claims, including on an expedited basis if a preliminary injunction is sought, and that therefore section 1-1-113 does not run afoul of the Supremacy Clause." View "Frazier v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Gordon Roy Butt sought to run for Colorado senate for the Libertarian Party in a 2013 recall election. The Secretary of State denied his request to circulate a petition because his request came after the deadline as then set by section 1-12-117(1). Butt and the Libertarian Party (collectively, “the Party”) sued the Secretary under section 1-1-113, C.R.S. (2017), alleging that the statutory deadline conflicted with the Colorado Constitution. Within the section 1-1-113 proceeding, the Party also raised a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. 1983 (2012), and an accompanying request for an award of attorney’s fees under 42 U.S.C. 1988 (2012), alleging, inter alia, a First Amendment violation. The district court found for the Party on the state constitutional claim, and did not address the section 1983 claim. After the Colorado Supreme Court denied appellate review on a split vote, further proceedings occurred before the district court. The case was appealed once again, and the Supreme Court denied review again. Nine months later, the Party returned to district court seeking summary judgment on its section 1983 claim and, in the alternative, an attorney’s fee award under section 1988 on the ground that the Party had been successful on its state constitutional claim. The district court denied the Party’s request for attorney’s fees, finding that it had not pursued fees in a timely manner. It also dismissed the section 1983 claim as moot due to the General Assembly’s 2014 amendment of section 1-12-117(1). The court of appeals reversed the district court, holding that although the Party’s section 1983 claim was moot, the request for attorney’s fees under section 1988 was appropriate so long as the section 1983 claim was substantial, stemmed from the same nucleus of operative facts as the state constitutional claim, and was reasonably related to the plaintiff’s ultimate success. The court remanded the case to the district court to apply this test to determine whether the Party was entitled to fees. The Colorado Secretary of State appealed, and the Supreme Court reversed: a section 1983 claim may not be brought in a section 1-1-113 proceeding. The language of that section repeatedly refers to "this code," meaning the Colorado Election Code. Therefore, a section 1-1-113 proceeding is limited to allegations of a “breach or neglect of duty or other wrongful act” under the election code itself. § 1-1-113(1). We emphasize that Colorado courts remain entirely open for adjudication of section 1983 claims, including on an expedited basis if a preliminary injunction is sought, and that therefore section 1-1-113 does not run afoul of the Supremacy Clause. View "Williams v. Libertarian Party" on Justia Law

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The Colorado Supreme Court held that under section 2(5)(a)(IV) of the Colorado Constitution, a campaign “contribution” required that: (1) something of value (2) be given to a candidate, directly or indirectly, (3) for the purpose of promoting the candidate’s nomination, retention, recall, or election. Here, a school district commissioned and paid for a "white paper" report supportive of the district’s reform agenda using public funds. Petitioner Julie Keim was a candidate for one of four open seats in the 2013 school board election. According to Keim, after the 2009 school board election, the District began implementing a conservative “reform agenda,” which she characterized as “[school] choice-focused” and supportive of charter schools. The 2011 election brought in three additional reform agenda board members; thereafter, the entire board and the District’s superintendent unanimously supported the reform agenda. In 2013, four school board seats were up for election. In February of that year, the District contracted with the American Enterprise Institute (“AEI”) to prepare a white paper about the school system. Shortly thereafter, Keim filed a campaign finance complaint against the District with the Secretary of State alleging the District “violated the [Fair Campaign Practices Act, "FCPA"] . . . by using district resources to influence the outcome of the school board election.” Because the school district did not give something, directly or indirectly, to any candidate when it publicly disseminated an email containing a link to the report, the Supreme Court concluded the school district did not make a prohibited “contribution” under Colorado campaign finance provisions. View "Keim v. Douglas County School District" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Scott Smith and D. Michael Kopp, both registered electors, appealed the actions of the Ballot Title Setting Board (“Title Board”) regarding the setting of the title and ballot title and submission clause for Proposed Initiative 2017–2018 #4 (“Initiative #4”). Issues for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review were: (1) Initiative #4 contained a single subject; and (2) whether the Supreme Court had authority to review an abstract prepared and submitted to the Title Board as required by section 1-40-105.5, C.R.S. (2016). The Court concluded: (1) the initiative indeed contained a single subject (the limitation of housing growth in Colorado); and (2) section 1-40-107 authorized the Court to review such an abstract. View "In the Matter of the Title, Ballot Title and Submission Clause for 2017" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Donna Johnson challenged the Ballot Title Board's decision to set the title, ballot title and submission clause for Initiatives 2015-2016 #132 and 133, contending that the titles did not satisfy the clear title requirement and they did not contain a single subject. If passed, the Initiatives, substantially similar in language and form, represented two of several redistricting concepts proposed by the Proponents during the 2016 election cycle. Both Initiatives would have amended article V, section 44 through 48 of the Colorado Constitution by restructuring or replacing the Colorado Reapportionment Commission. After review, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded that both of the proposed Initiatives encompassed multiple subjects in violation of Colorado law. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Title Board and remanded for revision. View "In re Title, Ballot Title & Submission Clause for 2015-2016 #132 & #133" on Justia Law

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Petitioner John Robinson challenged the Ballot Title Board's decision to set the title, ballot title and submission clause for Initiative 2015-2016 #156, contending that the title did not satisfy the clear title requirement and it did not contain a single subject. If passed, Initiative #156 would have added a new section to the Colorado Revised Statutes prohibiting state and local licensing authorities from issuing "a license to food store that offers for sale, in sealed containers for off-premises consumption," certain "intoxicants, namely marijuana, marijuana product, liquor, wine and malt liquor. After review, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded the title indeed violated the clear title requirement because it was confusing and failed to help voters decipher the purpose of the initiative, or to help voters decide whether to support or oppose it. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Title Board's setting of title for Initiative #156, and returned it to the Board for revision. View "In the Matter of the Title, Ballot Title & Submission Clause for 2015-2016 Initiative #156" on Justia Law

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On October 27, 2015,one week before the November 3 regular biennial school board election for Mesa County Valley School District 51, three registered electors of the school district, Kent Carson, James “Gil” Tisue, and Dale Pass, filed a verified petition with the district court, challenging as wrongful the certification of one of the candidates. Carson and two other electors of Mesa County Valley School District 51 sought certiorari review of the district court’s order denying their requested relief concerning a school board election. After review, the Supreme Court found that C.R.S. section 1-1-113(1) did not permit a challenge to an election official’s certification of a candidate to the ballot, solely on the basis of the certified candidate’s qualification, once the period permitted by section 1-4-501(3), C.R.S. (2015), for challenging the qualification of the candidate directly has expired. Therefore the district court's ruling was affirmed. View "Carson v. Reiner" on Justia Law

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Initiative #63 would establish a right to a healthy environment in Colorado by amending the state Constitution. Petitioners argued the text of the Initiative filed a motion to the Title Board, arguing the Initiative as written was misleading and contained multiple subjects. The Supreme Court reviewed the Title Board's action setting the title, ballot title and submission clause for the Initiative, and concluded that the Initiative contained a single subject, and that the title clearly expressed the subject and was not misleading. View "In the Matter of the Title, Ballot Title and Submission Clause for 2015" on Justia Law

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Proponents Mike Spalding and David Ottke proposed Initiative #73, which would amend article XXI of the Colorado Constitution to change the procedures leading to and the conduct of recall elections for state and local elective officials. A review and comment hearing was held before representatives of the Offices of Legislative Counsel and Legislative Legal Services. Thereafter, the proponents submitted a final version of their proposed initiative to the Secretary of State for purposes of submission to the Title Board. The Title Board conducted a hearing, concluded that the proposed initiative contained a single subject, and set a title. Petitioner Phillip Hayes filed a motion for rehearing, contending that the title comprised multiple subjects and was misleading, confusing, and inaccurate. Hayes petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court for review The Supreme Court concluded that Initiative #73 contained one subject, namely, the manner in which recall elections are triggered and conducted; however, the title set by the Title Board did not satisfy the clear title requirement because it did not alert voters to central elements of the initiative; it was misleading as to other elements; and, as all parties agreed, it unnecessarily recited existing law. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Title Board and returned this measure to the Board to fix a new title. View "In the Matter of the Title, Ballot Title and Submission Clause for 2015-2016 #73" on Justia Law

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In 2007, Petitioners Curtis Vagneur and Jeffrey Evans submitted two initiative petitions to the Aspen City Clerk regarding the highway entrance to Aspen. Respondents Les Holst, Clifford Weiss, and Terry Paulson filed objections to the petitions. Following a hearing, an administrative hearing officer determined that the proposed initiatives sought to ask electors of Aspen to vote on a change on use of open space to authorize a different entrance to Aspen, to mandate design specifics for that roadway, and to mandate the amendment or rescinding of existing documents previously authorized by the City Council that conflicted with conditions of the proposed roadway. The hearing officer concluded that the initiatives were "improper subjects of the initiative process." The issue before the Supreme Court was whether the initiatives were administrative in nature, and therefore outside the initiative process. The Court concluded that the proposed initiatives were indeed administrative in nature and were therefore not a proper exercise of the people's initiative power. The Court affirmed the hearing officer and the court of appeals. View "Vagneur v. City of Aspen" on Justia Law