269 P.3d 141 (Utah 2012), 20110482, Carter v. Lehi City

Docket Nº:20110482.
Citation:269 P.3d 141, 2012 UT 2
Opinion Judge:LEE, Justice
Party Name:Clint CARTER, Melvin P. Anderson, and Kenneth Greenwood, Petitioners, v. LEHI CITY and Marilyn Banasky, Lehi City Recorder, Respondents.
Attorney:John L. Valentine, Provo, for petitioners. J. Craig Smith, Daniel J. McDonald, Kathryn J. Steffey, R. Christopher Preston, Salt Lake City, Kenneth A. Rushton, Lehi, for respondents.
Judge Panel:Justice LEE authored the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice DURHAM, Associate Chief Justice DURRANT, Justice PARRISH, and Justice NEHRING joined.
Case Date:January 10, 2012
Court:Supreme Court of Utah

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269 P.3d 141 (Utah 2012)

2012 UT 2

Clint CARTER, Melvin P. Anderson, and Kenneth Greenwood, Petitioners,


LEHI CITY and Marilyn Banasky, Lehi City Recorder, Respondents.

No. 20110482.

Supreme Court of Utah.

January 10, 2012

Page 142

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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John L. Valentine, Provo, for petitioners.

J. Craig Smith, Daniel J. McDonald, Kathryn J. Steffey, R. Christopher Preston, Salt Lake City, Kenneth A. Rushton, Lehi, for respondents.


LEE, Justice

¶ 1 This case presents questions concerning the scope of the people's initiative power under article VI of the Utah Constitution. Petitioners are Lehi City voters who sought to place on the municipal ballot initiatives regulating salaries and residency requirements

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for certain city employees. The City refused to accept the initiatives, and this litigation ensued.

¶ 2 Our consideration of this matter has caused us to reexamine our precedents defining the nature and extent of the people's power to legislate by initiative. The framework embraced in those precedents has prompted some misgivings over the years. At the core of our concern has been the difficulty of applying the test in our cases predictably and consistently.1

¶ 3 This concern is particularly troubling in a field that implicates the constitutional power of the people to initiate legislation. That power is a fundamental guardian of liberty and an ultimate protection against tyranny. Its preservation cannot be left to the whims of a doctrine whose invocation turns on the discretionary decrees of the judicial branch. Of all the branches of government, we are least suited to decide on the wisdom of allowing the people to supplant their representatives in a particular field of regulation. We are the least representative branch of government. There is a troubling irony in our making discretionary calls on the propriety of acts by the ultimate repository of regulatory power. We must assure that our decisions on such vital matters are dictated by law, not by our individual preferences.

¶ 4 With this in mind, we return to first principles to examine the nature and scope of the people's initiative power. In the paragraphs below, we evaluate the text and structure of article VI of the Utah Constitution and analyze its meaning in historical perspective. From those materials we develop a legal framework for delineating the people's initiative power that is consistent with the text and original meaning of article VI.

¶ 5 This page of history outweighs the volume of logic in our existing precedent. Thus, we abandon the framework set forth in Citizen's Awareness Now v. Marakis, 873 P.2d 1117 (Utah 1994), and refined in subsequent cases, replacing it with a standard that defines the people's initiative power on the basis of the nature of the power to effect " legislation," as that term is traditionally understood.

¶ 6 In so doing, we do not envision a fundamental change in the ultimate breadth of the initiative power. Our new framework is not aimed at overturning the results of most of our prior decisions in this area. We aim to clarify the law and to bring it in line with the text and original meaning of the constitution, not to overrule the results of many of our cases. Thus, our decision today is sensitive to and ultimately consistent with the doctrine of stare decisis. That doctrine recognizes that " people should know what their legal rights are as defined by judicial precedent, and having conducted their affairs in reliance on such rights, ought not to have them swept away by judicial fiat." Austad v. Austad, 2 Utah 2d 49, 269 P.2d 284, 290 (1954). A decision to clarify unworkable precedent does not undermine but advances that goal, particularly where we preserve the results of most of our prior cases. See id.

¶ 7 Applying our new standard, we uphold the initiatives proposed by petitioners as properly legislative and reject Lehi City's various objections to placing them on the ballot.


¶ 8 In December 2010, a group of Lehi City voters sought to amend two city ordinances by submitting to the city recorder two voter initiatives for inclusion in the 2011 municipal election ballot. Initiative One sought to set " maximum salary and total compensation limits" on all salaried city employees. Initiative Two sought to impose a city residency requirement for certain city employees. Each initiative garnered more than the minimum number of registered voter signatures

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required by statute,2 and it is undisputed that the initiatives otherwise complied with title 20A, chapter 7 of the election code, which governs the manner and conditions for proposing citizen initiatives.

¶ 9 In a May 2011 council meeting, the Lehi City Council determined that the proposed amendments were not valid exercises of the voters' power to initiate legislation, and adopted a resolution directing the city recorder to refuse to place them on the November 2011 election ballot. The resolution stated the council's conclusions that " both initiatives are legally insufficient in that they: i) are not the proper subject of an initiative petition because they are administrative in nature; ii) may be an unconstitutional impairment of contract; [and] iii) conflict with state law."

¶ 10 Upon learning of the council's decision, three of the initiatives' sponsors filed a petition for writ of extraordinary relief directly in this court as authorized by Utah Code section 20A-7-507. The petitioners contend that Initiatives One and Two are proper exercises of initiative power under article VI of the Utah Constitution and that the initiatives should be submitted for voter approval in the next municipal election. We agree with the petitioners: The subject matter of Initiatives One and Two is legislative in nature; the initiatives do not conflict with state law because Utah Code section 10-3-818, invoked by the City, does not apply to voter initiatives; and the City's remaining arguments are not ripe for review.


¶ 11 Lehi City raises a threshold timing issue. The City notes that under Utah Code section 20A-7-507(5)(a), a voter petition for an extraordinary writ on an initiative is due " within 10 days after the refusal" of the initiative by the " local clerk." Because the Lehi City Recorder refused the proposed initiatives in a letter dated May 18, 2011, the City contends that the extraordinary writ was due by statute on June 2, 2011, and was thus untimely when filed one day later on June 3.

¶ 12 In calculating the petition's statutory due date, the City counts only business days, as provided by Utah Rule of Appellate Procedure 22(a), but does not add three additional days based on the use of the mail for service, as sometimes called for by Utah Rule of Civil Procedure 6(e). The timeliness of petitioner's filing turns on the applicability of this latter provision. If the three-day addition contemplated by rule 6(e) applies here, the petition in this case was timely. Otherwise, it was late and subject to dismissal.

¶ 13 By its terms, rule 6(e) has no application here. It adds three days only for filings required " within a prescribed period after the service of a notice or other paper upon [the party]" and only if " the notice or paper is served ... by mail." Utah R. Civ. P. 6(e). The extraordinary writ at issue here is not such a filing, as it is required not " within a prescribed period after the service of a notice or other paper," but within a prescribed period after a certain action (refusal of the initiative). Rule 6(e)'s three-day addition, in other words, is properly invoked only where the time period is triggered by service, and not by some other action.3 Because the ten-day period in the statute at issue here is triggered by the city recorder's refusal, and not service of notice of the refusal, there is no basis in rule 6(e) for adding three days to the filing deadline.

¶ 14 Applying that interpretation to this case would result in dismissal of the petition as untimely. Petitioners note, however, that this approach is inconsistent with our decision in Low v. City of Monticello, 2002 UT 90, 54 P.3d 1153. Low asserted, without analysis, that rule 6(e) extended the ten-day period under

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section 20A-7- 507(5)(a). Id. ¶ ¶ 17-18. In light of Low, petitioners contend that their filing should be deemed timely, regardless of the contrary conclusion suggested by the plain language of rule 6(e).

¶ 15 We overrule Low insofar as it adopted a construction of rule 6(e) that is contrary to its text. Rule 6(e) has no application to the ten-day filing requirement for extraordinary writs under section 20A-7-507(5)(a), as the statutory period is triggered by refusal of an initiative and not its service to a party. We apply our holding only prospectively, however, in recognition of petitioner's reasonable reliance on the Low opinion. See Merrill v. Utah Labor Comm'n, 2009 UT 74, ¶ 5, 223 P.3d 1099 (court may foreclose " retroactive operation of [a] ruling where [an] overruled law has been justifiably re lied upon" (internal quotation marks omitted)). Litigants ought to be able to rely on our constructions of our rules and statutes, particularly on matters as critical as the timing standards for filing deadlines. Thus, we do not extend our holding on this issue to the petitioners in this case, as they were entitled to rely on our opinion in Low and should not be punished for accepting it as con trolling so long as it stood unreversed.


¶ 16 Lehi City's central contention is that Initiatives One and Two are " administrative in nature" and thus not " appropriate for voter participation." We disagree...

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