Cipriano v. City of Houma

Decision Date16 June 1969
Docket NumberNo. 705,705
Citation395 U.S. 701,23 L.Ed.2d 647,89 S.Ct. 1897
PartiesJoseph Q. CIPRIANO, Appellant, v. CITY OF HOUMA et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Kenneth Watkins, Houma, La., for appellant.

Eugene E. Huppenbauer, Jr., New Orleans, La., for appellees.

PER CURIAM.

In this case we must determine whether provisions of Louisiana law which give only 'property taxpayers' the right to vote in elections called to approve the issuance of revenue bonds by a municipal utility are constitutional. This case thus presents an issue similar to the one considered in Kramer v. Union Free School District No. 15, 395 U.S. 621, 89 S.Ct. 1886, 23 L.Ed.2d 583. With one judge dissenting, a three-judge District Court determined that the Louisiana provisions were constitutional. However, as in Kramer, we find that the challenged provisions violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; we therefore reverse.

The Louisiana Constitution provides that the legislature may authorize municipalities to issue bonds '(f)or the purpose of constructing, acquiring, extending or improving any revenue producing public utility.' La.Const., Art. 14, § 14(m). Pursuant to this provision, the legislature enacted legislation authorizing Louisiana municipalities to issue revenue bonds. La.Rev.Stat. § 33:4251 (1950).1 The legislature further provided, however, that the municipalities could issue the bonds only if they were approved by a 'majority in number and amount of the property taxpayers qualified to vote * * * (who vote at the bond election).'2 La.Rev.Stat. § 39:501 (1950). See also La.Rev.Stat. §§ 33:4258, 39:508 (1950).

Appellee City of Houma owns and operates gas, water, and electric utility systems. In September 1967 the city officials scheduled a special election to obtain voter approval for the issuance of $10,000,000 of utility revenue bonds. The city planned to finance extension and improvement of the municipally owned utility systems with the bond proceeds. At the special election a majority 'in number and amount' of the property taxpayers approved the bond issue. However, within the period provided by Louisiana law for contesting the result of the election, La.Rev.Stat. § 33:4260 (1950), this suit was instituted in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Appellant alleged that he was a duly qualified voter3 of the City of Houma, and that he had been prevented from voting in the revenue bond election solely because he was not a property owner. He sued for himself and for a class of 6,926 nonproperty taxpayers otherwise qualified as City of Houma voters. Appellant sought to enjoin the issuance of the bonds approved at the special election and to obtain a declaratory judgment that the limitation of the franchise to property taxpayers is unconstitutional. A three-judge District Court was convened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2281, 2284. The court then dismissed the suit, finding the Louisiana provisions constitutional. Cipriano v. City of Houma, 286 F.Supp. 823 (D.C.E.D.La.1968). Appellant brought a direct appeal to this Court, 28 U.S.C. § 1253; we noted probable jurisdiction. 393 U.S. 1061, 89 S.Ct. 714, 21 L.Ed.2d 704 (1969).

As we noted in Kramer, supra, if a challenged state statute grants the right to vote in a limited purpose election to some otherwise qualified voters and denies it to others,4 'the Court must determine whether the exclusions are necessary to promote a compelling state interest.' Kramer v. Union Free School District No. 15, supra, at 627, 89 S.Ct. at 1890. Moreover, no less showing that the exclusions are necessary to promote a compelling state interest is required merely because 'the questions scheduled for the election need not have been submitted to the voters.' Id., at 629, 89 S.Ct. at 1890, n. 11.

The appellees maintain that property owners have a 'special pecuniary interest' in the election, because the efficiency of the utility system directly affects 'property and property values' and thus 'the basic security of their investment in (their) property (is) at stake.' Assuming, arguendo,5 that a State might, in some circumstances, constitutionally limit the franchise to qualified voters who are also 'specially interested' in the election, whether the statute allegedly so limiting the franchise denies equal protection of the laws to those otherwise qualified voters who are excluded depends on 'whether all those excluded are in fact substantially less interested or affected than those the statute includes.' Id., at 632, 89 S.Ct. at 1892.

At the time of the election, only about 40% of the city's registered voters were property taxpayers. Of course, the operation of the utility systems—gas, water, and electric—affects virtually every resident of the city, nonproperty owners as well as property owners. All users pay utility bills, and the rates may be affected substantially by the amount of revenue bonds outstanding.6 Certainly property owners are not alone in feeling the impact of bad utility service or high rates, or in reaping the benefits of good service and low rates.

The revenue bonds are to be paid only from the operations of the utilities; they are not financed in any way by property tax revenue. Property owners, like nonproperty owners, use the utilities and pay the rates; however, the impat of the revenue bond issue on them is unconnected to their status as property taxpayers. Indeed, the benefits and burdens of the bond issue fall indiscriminately on property owner and nonproperty owner alike.

Moreover, the profits of the utility systems' operations are paid into the general fund of the city and are used to finance city services that otherwise would be supported by taxes. Of course, property taxpayers may be concerned with expanding and improving the city's utility operations; such improvements could produce revenues which eventually would reduce the burden on the property tax to support city services. On the other hand, nonproperty taxpayers may feel that their interests as rate payers indicate that no further expansion of utility debt obligations should be made. Of course, these differences of opinion cannot justify excluding either group from the bond election, when, as in this case, both are substantially affected by the utility opera- tions. For, as we noted in Carrington v. Rash, 380 U.S. 89, 94, 85 S.Ct. 775, 779, 13 L.Ed.2d 675 (1965), "(f)encing out' from the franchise a sector of the population because of the way they may vote is constitutionally impermissible.'

The challenged statute contains a classification which excludes otherwise qualified voters who are as substantially affected and directly interested in the matter voted upon as are those who are permitted to vote. When, as in this case, the State's sole justification for the statute is that the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
501 cases
  • Simi Valley Recreation & Park Dist. v. Local Agency Formation Com.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • September 25, 1975
    ... ... The area encompassed by District is located in southeastern Ventura County. It includes the City of Simi Valley, the balance of the Simi Valley, and surrounding territory. The 10,000-acre parcel ... Union School District (1969) 395 U.S. 621, 89 S.Ct. 1886, 23 L.Ed.2d 593; Cipriano v. City of Houma (1969) 395 U.S. 701, 89 S.Ct. 1897, 23 L.Ed.2d 647; Evans v. Cornman (1970) 398 ... ...
  • Ramirez v. Brown
    • United States
    • California Supreme Court
    • March 30, 1973
    ... ... 6 (Accord,[9 Cal.3d 208] Cipriano v. City of Houma (1969) 395 U.S. 701, 89 S.Ct. 1897, 23 L.Ed.2d 647; Turner v. Fouche (1970) 396 ... ...
  • Nader v. Schaffer
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
    • July 14, 1976
    ... ... Stone, 421 U.S. 289, 295-98, 95 S.Ct. 1637, 44 L.Ed.2d 172 (1975); City of Phoenix v. Kolodziejski, 399 U.S. 204, 207-13, 90 S.Ct. 1990, 26 L.Ed.2d 523 (1970); Cipriano v. City of Houma, 395 U.S. 701, 706, 89 S.Ct. 1897, 23 L.Ed.2d 647 (1969) (per curiam); and Kramer v. Union Free ... ...
  • Curtis v. Board of Supervisors
    • United States
    • California Supreme Court
    • September 19, 1972
    ...a stake no less than that of other residents in the quality of state and local government. Similarly, in Cipriano v. City of Houma (1969) 395 U.S. 701, 89 S.Ct. 1897, 23 L.Ed.2d 647, the court invalidated a Louisiana statute which precluded all but property taxpayers from participating in a......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
8 books & journal articles
  • Felon disenfranchisement: law, history, policy, and politics.
    • United States
    • Fordham Urban Law Journal Vol. 32 No. 5, September 2005
    • September 1, 2005
    ...405 U.S. 134 (1972) (holding Texas primary election filing fee is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause); Cipriano v. City of Houma, 395 U.S. 701 (1969) (holding restriction allowing only taxpaying property owners to vote on municipal bonds violates equal protection); Kramer v. Union F......
  • Retroactive Adjudication.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 130 No. 2, November 2020
    • November 1, 2020
    ...at 565. (231.) 404 U.S. 97(1971). (232.) 395 U.S. 352, 355(1969). (233.) Chevron Oil, 404 U.S. at 108 (quoting Cipriano v. City of Houma, 395 U.S. 701, 706 (234.) It is far from definitive that "[t]he most [Huson] could do was to rely on the law as it then was." Id. at 107; see infra Sectio......
  • Structuring judicial review of electoral mechanics: explanations and opportunities.
    • United States
    • University of Pennsylvania Law Review Vol. 156 No. 2, December 2007
    • December 1, 2007
    ...exploring what sort of threshold inquiry in electoral mechanics cases would be most appropriate. (1) See, e.g., Cipriano v. City of Houma, 395 U.S. 701 (1969); Kramer v. Union Free Sch. Dist. No. 15, 395 U.S. 621 (1969); Harper v. Va. State Bd. of Elections, 383 U.S. 663 (1966); Harman v. F......
  • Civil death is different: an examination of a post-Graham challenge to felon disenfranchisement under the Eighth Amendment.
    • United States
    • Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Vol. 102 No. 2, March 2012
    • March 22, 2012
    ...to serve their legitimate objectives." (internal citations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted)); Cipriano v. City of Houma, 395 U.S. 701,706 (1969) ("[I]fa challenged state statute grants the right to vote ... to some otherwise qualified voters and denies it to others, the Court mus......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
13 provisions
  • Colo. Const. art. XI § 6 Local Government Debt
    • United States
    • Constitution of the State of Colorado 2023 Edition Article XI. Public Indebtedness
    • January 1, 2023
    ...States Supreme Court in Kramer v. Union Free School District, 395 U.S. 621, 89 S. Ct. 1886, 23 L. Ed. 2d 583 (1969), Cipriano v. Houma, 395 U.S. 701, 89 S. Ct. 1897, 23 L. Ed. 2d 647 (1969), and City of Phoenix v. Kolodziejski, 399 U.S. 204, 90 S. Ct. 1990, 26 L. Ed. 2d 523 (1970) held that......
  • Colo. Const. art. XI § 6 Local Government Debt
    • United States
    • Constitution of the State of Colorado 2020 Edition Article XI. Public Indebtedness
    • January 1, 2020
    ...States Supreme Court in Kramer v. Union Free School District, 395 U.S. 621, 89 S. Ct. 1886, 23 L. Ed. 2d 583 (1969), Cipriano v. Houma, 395 U.S. 701, 89 S. Ct. 1897, 23 L. Ed. 2d 647 (1969), and City of Phoenix v. Kolodziejski, 399 U.S. 204, 90 S. Ct. 1990, 26 L. Ed. 2d 523 (1970) held that......
  • Colo. Const. art. XI § 6 Local Government Debt
    • United States
    • Constitution of the State of Colorado 2021 Edition Article XI. Public Indebtedness
    • January 1, 2021
    ...States Supreme Court in Kramer v. Union Free School District, 395 U.S. 621, 89 S. Ct. 1886, 23 L. Ed. 2d 583 (1969), Cipriano v. Houma, 395 U.S. 701, 89 S. Ct. 1897, 23 L. Ed. 2d 647 (1969), and City of Phoenix v. Kolodziejski, 399 U.S. 204, 90 S. Ct. 1990, 26 L. Ed. 2d 523 (1970) held that......
  • § 6. Local Government Debt
    • United States
    • Constitution of the State of Colorado 2013 Edition Article XI. Public Indebtedness
    • January 1, 2013
    ...States Supreme Court in Kramer v. Union Free School District, 395 U.S. 621, 89 S. Ct. 1886, 23 L. Ed. 2d 583 (1969), Cipriano v. Houma, 395 U.S. 701, 89 S. Ct. 1897, 23 L. Ed. 2d 647 (1969), and City of Phoenix v. Kolodziejski, 399 U.S. 204, 90 S. Ct. 1990, 26 L. Ed. 2d 523 (1970) held that......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT