City of Talladega v. Pettus
|24 July 1992
|602 So.2d 357
|CITY OF TALLADEGA, et al. v. Clarence PETTUS. 1910418.
|Alabama Supreme Court
O. Stanley Thornton of Wooten, Thornton, Carpenter, O'Brien & Lazenby, Talladega for appellants City of Talladega, Horace L. Patterson, Sr., Donald F. Hubbard, Howard "Rip" Williams and James Spratlin.
Philip H. Smith, Talladega, for appellant Philip H. Barton.
George A. Monk of Merrill, Porch, Dillon & Fite, Anniston, for appellee Clarence Pettus.
The issue in this case is whether the trial court had jurisdiction to revoke a certificate of election issued to the winner of a municipal election for mayor because of the candidate's failure to comply with the filing requirements of the Fair Campaign Practices Act relating to campaign contributions.
The basic facts are not seriously disputed. On July 16, 1991, Larry H. Barton announced his candidacy for the office of mayor of Talladega. The election was held on August 27, 1991. No candidate received a majority of the votes in that election; thus a second election, or "run-off," was necessary. That election was held on September 17, 1991.
On the day before the election, at approximately 4:00 p.m., Barton filed his campaign committee disclosure form and his statement of contributions and expenditures required by the Fair Campaign Practices Act ("FCPA"). This filing was not timely. 1 The run-off election was held on September 17, as scheduled. On the day after the election, the city council declared Barton the winner and issued him a certificate of election.
On September 23, 1991, five days after the results of the second election were declared, Clarence Pettus filed a contest of that second election, and he asked the trial court to revoke the certificate of election issued to Barton and to order a new election. Pettus's challenge to Barton's election was based on Barton's failure to comply with the FCPA requirement that he file his campaign committee form and his statement of contributions and expenditures within five days of declaring his candidacy.
The trial court, finding that Barton did not comply with the FCPA, ordered the city council to revoke Barton's certificate of election, relying on the provisions of Ala.Code 1975, § 17-22A-21. The city council filed a counterclaim in which it sought a court order to establish a procedure for electing a new mayor. The trial court responded by ordering the city to hold another election. Both the city and Barton appealed from the trial court's order revoking the certificate of election.
Two basic arguments are made by the city and Barton:
(1) Although Barton did not file his statement of contributions and expenditures as required by the FCPA, he did file them prior to the election; therefore, the trial court was without authority to order his certificate of election revoked. Davis v. Reynolds, 592 So.2d 546 (Ala.1991).
(2) The FCPA does not authorize a court to revoke a certificate of election issued to the winning candidate in a municipal election, because no statute grants a court such authority.
The FCPA was enacted into law by the legislature in 1988. Ala.Acts 1988, No. 88-873, p. 397; Ala.Code 1975, § 17-22A-1 et seq. At the time the trial court revoked the certificate of election, this Court had decided Megginson v. Turner, 565 So.2d 247 (Ala.1990), a case involving provisions of the FCPA. In Megginson, this Court affirmed the trial court's holding that if a candidate failed to comply with the FCPA filing requirements, the candidate's name could not appear on the ballot for a general election. Megginson, 565 So.2d at 248. The trial court appears to have followed that case and the principles of law set out in it in ordering the certificate of election revoked because of the candidate's failure to strictly comply with the provisions of the FCPA.
After the trial court made its decision, this Court decided Davis v. Reynolds, 592 So.2d 546 (Ala.1991), wherein this Court held that a candidate's certificate of election could not be revoked for noncompliance with the FCPA's filing requirements relating to campaign contributions and expenditures, so long as the candidate filed the required form or statement before the election. The Court, in Davis, specifically held as follows:
On appeal, the City and Barton argue that, although Barton did not file the statements required to be filed by § 17-22A-4 within five days, he filed them before the election, and that, according to Davis, the court could not order his certificate of election revoked. They argue that, under Davis, Barton could be penalized only by the fine prescribed by statute. Ala.Code 1975, § 17-22A-22.
Pettus recognizes the holding in Davis. He argues that, in view of the holding in Davis, "the most honest and forthright approach to the issue raised in this appeal is for this appellee to state forthrightly his belief in the validity of the reasoning contained in Megginson." Pettus urges the Court to apply Megginson and hold that noncompliance with the filing requirements of the FCPA means revocation of Barton's certificate of election. He asks this Court to re-evaluate its reading of the FCPA so as to provide the civil forfeiture sanction against a candidate who has not substantially complied with the filing requirements of the Act, in order to prevent a "gross" abuse of its mandates.
After reading the briefs of the parties and after considering the oral arguments, we conclude that the issue presented in this case can be decided without addressing the question whether the trial court could have revoked the certificate of election on the basis that Barton's noncompliance with the FPCA was "gross." It appears to us that a jurisdictional question is presented as to whether the trial court, under the provisions of § 17-22A-21, had the power to revoke the certificate of election issued to Barton by the city council.
A court does not have the jurisdiction to interfere in an election result, unless a statute authorizes it to do so. Ala.Code 1975, § 17-15-6, divests courts of such jurisdiction. That statute provides, in pertinent part:
"No jurisdiction exists in or shall be exercised by any judge, court or officer exercising chancery powers to entertain any proceeding for ascertaining the legality, conduct or results of any election, except so far as authority to do so shall be specially and specifically enumerated and set down by statute ..."
This Court, in Turner v. Cooper, 347 So.2d 1339, 1346 (Ala.1977), said that "[c]ontests of elections are statutory creations, except insofar as we have noted, and the statutory requirements must be strictly complied with" (citations omitted).
Is a trial court authorized, by statute, to revoke a certificate of election issued to a winning candidate in a municipal election? We think not. A court can prevent the issuance of a certificate of election to a municipal office, but, once the certificate is issued, the court is without authority to revoke it. Section 17-22A-21 states:
The first sentence in the statute gives the Court the express power to prevent the issuance of a certificate of election to any person nominated to a "state or local office," which is defined by § 17-22A-2(7) as "[a]ny office under the constitution and laws of the state, except circuit, district or legislative offices, filled by election of the registered voters of a single county or municipality, or by the voters of a division contained within a county or municipality," but the second sentence of § 17-22A-21 omits the term "local office" and substitutes instead the term "county office." It seems clear that the legislature deliberately made no provision for the revocation of a certificate of election in a municipal election. 2 This Court, therefore, has no alternative but to hold that the legislature intentionally did not authorize the revocation of a municipal certificate of election.
It appears to us that, in view of the specific provisions of law prohibiting courts from interfering with elections unless specifically authorized by statute to do so, the legislature intended for the provisions of law relating to annulment of municipal elections to be the sole authority under which courts could act. Section 11-46-69 sets out the grounds on which municipal elections may be challenged:
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