Cacioppo v. EAGLE COUNTY SCHOOL DIS., 03SA336.

CourtSupreme Court of Colorado
Citation92 P.3d 453
Docket NumberNo. 03SA336.,03SA336.
PartiesMichael J. CACIOPPO, Individually and on Behalf of all Property Taxpayers of Eagle County School, District Re-50J, Plaintiff-Appellant/Cross-Appellee v. EAGLE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT RE-50J, Defendant-Appellee/Cross-Appellant and Jody Caruthers, Eagle County Assessor, Karen Sheaffer, Eagle County Treasurer, and the Eagle County Commissioners, all in their official capacities, Defendants.
Decision Date14 June 2004

Michael J. Cacioppo, pro se, Edwards, Colorado.

Bernard, Lyons, Gaddis & Kahn, P.C., Richard N. Lyons, II, Adele L. Reester, Longmont, Colorado, Attorneys for Defendant-Appellee/Cross-Appellant Eagle County School District Re-50J.

No Appearance by or on behalf of Defendants Jody Caruthers, Eagle County Assessor, Karen Sheaffer, Eagle County Treasurer, and the Eagle County Commissioners, all in their official capacities.

Justice KOURLIS delivered the opinion of the court.

I. Introduction

In this case, we review a constitutional challenge to a ballot issue approved by voters in Eagle County raising taxes to allow a cost-of-living increase for the school district. Michael Cacioppo, the petitioner for purposes of this appeal, filed suit in Eagle County District Court nearly four months after the election seeking to overturn the election. He argued that the ballot title and the notice sent to voters violated article X, section 20 of the Colorado Constitution, and tainted the results of the election by including deliberately misleading information. The Eagle County School District (the "District") countered that all of Cacioppo's claims were time-barred by section 1-11-203.5, 1 C.R.S. (2003), since Cacioppo failed to file a verified petition contesting the ballot title within five days of the setting of the ballot title. Cacioppo argued that section 1-11-203.5 violates article X, section 20 of the Colorado Constitution.

The trial court ruled that while section 1-11-203.5 is constitutional, it did not bar any of Cacioppo's claims since that statute bars only form or content challenges to a ballot title and, in the court's view, all of Cacioppo's claims were substantive in nature. However, the trial court ruled in favor of the District on the merits, holding that the ballot issue substantially complied with constitutional requirements.

Cacioppo now appeals that decision. The District cross-appeals, reasserting its argument that section 1-11-203.5 operates to bar all of Cacioppo's claims. Cacioppo in turn argues that section 1-11-203.5 is unconstitutional.

We now hold that section 1-11-203.5 is constitutional. We conclude that its time limits are reasonable and were carefully crafted to avoid a conflict with the state constitution.

We also hold that all of Cacioppo's justiciable claims were time-barred either by section 1-11-203.5 or by section 1-11-213, 1 C.R.S. (2003), which requires a claimant who contests the results of an election to file a written statement of intent within ten days of the filing of the official survey of returns.

We hold that one of Cacioppo's claims is not ripe for a decision. We do not reach the merits of any of his claims. Accordingly, we affirm the decision of the trial court refusing to overturn the election, but on different grounds.

In this opinion, we first outline the factual and procedural background of the case. We then address the constitutionality of section 1-11-203.5, resolving the meaning of various terms in that statute in order to assess its constitutionality. Having concluded that the statute is constitutional, we next conclude that Cacioppo's claim concerning the ballot title is form and content-based, not substantive, and is thus time-barred by section 1-11-203.5. Lastly, we determine that the claims relating to the notice required by article X, section 20, clause 3(b) of the Colorado Constitution concern the results—and not the substance—of the election and that they are, therefore, time-barred by section 1-11-213. We conclude by denying Cacioppo's claim for attorney's fees.

II. Factual and Procedural Background

The parties stipulate to the following facts. On November 6, 2001, voters in Eagle County approved a mill levy increase for the District by way of a ballot issue1 whose title2 read "Eagle County School District Supplemental Cost of Living Adjustment Ballot Issue 3D" ("Ballot 3D" or the "ballot issue"). The submission clause3 of that ballot issue asked voters:

SHALL THE EAGLE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT RE-50J TAXES BE INCREASED $3,115,827 ANNUALLY AND BY SUCH AMOUNTS AS ARE RAISED THEREAFTER BY THE IMPOSITION OF A MILL LEVY WITHOUT LIMITATION AS TO AMOUNT OR RATE UPON ALL TAXABLE PROPERTY WITHIN THE DISTRICT, COMMENCING IN TAX YEAR 2001 AND CONTINUING THEREAFTER AS PROVIDED
BY LAW, FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROVIDING THE DISTRICT WITH AN ANNUAL SUPPLEMENTAL COST OF LIVING ADJUSTMENT AS AUTHORIZED BY THE PUBLIC SCHOOL FINANCE ACT OF 1994, AS AMENDED OR AS MAY BE AMENDED, INCLUDING ANY SUCCESSOR STATUTE, WITH THE PROCEEDS OF SUCH TAXES TO BE COLLECTED AND SPENT BY THE DISTRICT AS A VOTER-APPROVED REVENUE AND SPENDING CHANGE IN EACH YEAR, WITHOUT REGARD TO ANY SPENDING OR REVENUE LIMITATIONS CONTAINED IN SECTION 20 OF ARTICLE X OF THE COLORADO CONSTITUTION?

Citizens for Quality Education (CQE), a group of Eagle County residents, propounded the ballot issue, pursuant to section 22-54-107.5, 7A C.R.S. (2003), a 2001 amendment to the Public School Finance Act of 1994, § 22-54-101, et seq., 7A C.R.S. (2003). Ch 127, sec. 34, § 22-54-107.5, 2001 Colo. Sess. Laws 339, 364-65. Section 22-54-107.5 provides that a school district may conduct an election to raise property taxes in order "to provide a supplemental cost of living adjustment for the district." § 22-54-107.5(1).

Shortly after section 22-54-107.5 was enacted, CQE proposed a ballot issue that would raise property taxes in Eagle County to provide cost-of-living salary increases to the District's personnel. CQE presented the proposal to the Eagle County School Board (the "School Board") and, beginning in May of 2001, the School Board met several times to discuss the possibility of certifying the issue for the November 2001 election.

An actual draft of the proposed ballot issue was made available for the first time for both School Board and public review at the July 11, 2001, meeting. One of the Eagle County residents in attendance at that meeting was Michael Cacioppo, the plaintiff in this case. Cacioppo spoke to the School Board and expressed his concern that the ballot issue did not comply with the Colorado Constitution, particularly article X, section 20.

The School Board ultimately received legal advice that the ballot issue complied with all state constitutional and statutory requirements. At the next meeting, on August 8, 2001, the School Board passed a resolution ratifying the proposed ballot issue. The School Board then forwarded the ballot issue to Sara Fisher, the Eagle County Clerk and Recorder, in advance of the September 12, 2001, certification deadline mandated by section 1-5-203(3)(a), 1 C.R.S. (2003).

Karen Stakbein, the District's Finance Director, submitted the District's notice of the ballot issue, as required by article X, section 20, clause (3)(b) of the Colorado Constitution, to Fisher, so that it could be mailed to voters by the Clerk and Recorder's office in time for the election. Strakbein prepared the financial statements required by (3)(b)(ii), (iii), and (iv). CQE prepared the statements in favor of the proposed ballot issue, as required by 3(b)(v), and Cacioppo prepared the statements against the proposal, also required by 3(b)(v). Voters approved the ballot issue at the election on November 6, 2001.

On February 25, 2002, Cacioppo filed this action against the District in Eagle County District Court, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to overturn the election. In his complaint, Cacioppo alleged that Ballot 3D: (1) proposed a so-called "phased-in" tax and, as a result, its ballot title violated article X, section 20, clause 3(c) of the Colorado Constitution because it did not list the full final fiscal-year dollar increase as required for such proposals; (2) was susceptible to an interpretation that would permit a $3,115,827 tax increase every year indefinitely, and not just an initial increase of that amount, as purported; (3) violated clause 3(b)(ii) of article X, section 20 of the Colorado Constitution because it contained incorrect data in the financial disclosures required by that provision to be in the notice sent to voters; and (4) was false and misleading because it purported to pledge the entire tax increase to cost-of-living payments to employees when only two-thirds of the increase was intended for that purpose. Cacioppo also sought attorney's fees.

The District moved for summary judgment, arguing that Cacioppo's claims relating to the ballot title were time-barred by section 1-11-203.5, and, alternatively, that the District had complied with all the requirements of the Colorado Constitution, particularly article X, section 20. In his response to the District's motion for summary judgment, Cacioppo argued that his claims concerning both the ballot title and the requirements of the Colorado Constitution, article X, section 20, were constitutional claims and, as such, were not form or content claims time-barred by section 1-11-203.5. He alternatively argued that if section 1-11-203.5 operated to bar any of his claims, the statute should be ruled unconstitutional in light of article X, section 20 of the Colorado Constitution.

The trial court denied the motion for summary judgment and set the matter for a bifurcated trial.4 After the first phase of the trial, the court ruled that section 1-11-203.5 was constitutional but that it did not bar Cacioppo's claims since the court found them to be largely related to the substance of the ballot issue and not the form or content of the ballot title. Following...

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24 practice notes
  • Vigil v. Franklin, 03SC479.
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • 30 Noviembre 2004
    ...as a whole, giving effect to every word and term contained therein, whenever possible.'" Cacioppo v. Eagle County School Dist. Re-50J, 92 P.3d 453, 463 (Colo.2004) (quoting Bd. of County Comm'rs. v. Vail Assocs., Inc., 19 P.3d 1263, 1273 (Colo.2001)) (alteration in original); see also § 2-4......
  • Godfrey v. State, 15-0695
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • 30 Junio 2017
    ...or indirectly impair, limit, or destroy the rights that the executing ... provision provides." Cacioppo v. Eagle Cty. Sch. Dist. Re–50J , 92 P.3d 453, 463 (Colo. 2004) (en banc). On this issue, three members of the court conclude that the Iowa Civil Rights Act does not preempt the plaintiff......
  • McLinko v. Commonwealth, 244 M.D. 2021
    • United States
    • Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
    • 28 Enero 2022
    ...land claim held not to violate due process or separation of powers); 270 A.3d 1271 Cacioppo v. Eagle County School District Re-50J , 92 P.3d 453 (Colo. 2004) (Colorado statute providing a five-day statute of limitations to challenge ballot titles held not to violate Colorado Constitution).T......
  • Department of Transp. v. Stapleton, 03SC616.
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • 13 Septiembre 2004
    ...and generally accepted meaning, so as to reflect the legislative intent of the General Assembly. Cacioppo v. Eagle County Sch. Dist., 92 P.3d 453, 463 (Colo.2004). In particular, we presume that the General Assembly understands the legal import of the words it uses and does not use language......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
24 cases
  • Vigil v. Franklin
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Colorado
    • 30 Noviembre 2004
    ...as a whole, giving effect to every word and term contained therein, whenever possible.'" Cacioppo v. Eagle County School Dist. Re-50J, 92 P.3d 453, 463 (Colo.2004) (quoting Bd. of County Comm'rs. v. Vail Assocs., Inc., 19 P.3d 1263, 1273 (Colo.2001)) (alteration in original); see also § 2-4......
  • Godfrey v. State, 15-0695
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • 30 Junio 2017
    ...or indirectly impair, limit, or destroy the rights that the executing ... provision provides." Cacioppo v. Eagle Cty. Sch. Dist. Re–50J , 92 P.3d 453, 463 (Colo. 2004) (en banc). On this issue, three members of the court conclude that the Iowa Civil Rights Act does not preempt the plaintiff......
  • McLinko v. Commonwealth
    • United States
    • Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
    • 28 Enero 2022
    ...land claim held not to violate due process or separation of powers); 270 A.3d 1271 Cacioppo v. Eagle County School District Re-50J , 92 P.3d 453 (Colo. 2004) (Colorado statute providing a five-day statute of limitations to challenge ballot titles held not to violate Colorado Constitution).T......
  • Department of Transp. v. Stapleton, 03SC616.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Colorado
    • 13 Septiembre 2004
    ...and generally accepted meaning, so as to reflect the legislative intent of the General Assembly. Cacioppo v. Eagle County Sch. Dist., 92 P.3d 453, 463 (Colo.2004). In particular, we presume that the General Assembly understands the legal import of the words it uses and does not use language......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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