Powers v. City of Richmond

Decision Date08 May 1995
Docket NumberNo. S039547,S039547
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 893 P.2d 1160 Donna R. POWERS et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. CITY OF RICHMOND, Defendant and Respondent.

Alfred A. Cabral, Pelletreau, Moses, Alderson & Cabral, Richmond, for appellants.

Malcolm Hunter, Office of the City Atty., Richmond, for respondent.

KENNARD, Justice.

The Legislature has provided that actions seeking disclosure of documents under the Public Records Act (Gov.Code, § 6250 et seq.; hereafter the PRA) may be brought and tried in superior court, and thus are within that court's original jurisdiction. (Id., §§ 6258-6259.) The Legislature has further provided that superior court decisions in PRA cases are not appealable but instead are "immediately reviewable by petition to the appellate court for the issuance of an extraordinary writ." (Id., § 6259, subd. (c); hereafter § 6259(c).)

We granted review in this case to decide whether section 6259(c)--making a petition for extraordinary writ the exclusive mode of appellate review in PRA actions--violates our state Constitution and in particular section 11 of article VI, which states that, except when a judgment of death has been pronounced, the "courts of appeal have appellate jurisdiction when superior courts have original jurisdiction...." We conclude that section 6259(c) does not violate the "appellate jurisdiction" provision of the state Constitution.


Donna R. Powers, then a candidate for city council, requested that defendant City of Richmond disclose all expenditures by the mayor, the city council, and the city manager during the second half of fiscal year 1990-1991. The city supplied the requested information in the form of a computer generated report. Powers and certain of her supporters (hereafter collectively plaintiffs) then requested the same information for the first half of fiscal year 1990-1991. This time, the city refused to generate a computer report and instead gave plaintiffs access to a check register in which the requested information was intermingled with information concerning the expenditures of other city departments and agencies.

Plaintiffs then began an action in superior court under the PRA to compel the city to prepare and release a computer generated report containing only the requested information. After hearing evidence, the trial court ruled for the city. Plaintiffs then sought review in the Court of Appeal both by a petition for a writ of mandate and by direct appeal.

After soliciting and considering informal opposition concerning the merits of plaintiffs' PRA request, the Court of Appeal denied plaintiffs' writ petition summarily--that is, without holding a hearing and without issuing a written opinion. The city then moved to dismiss plaintiffs' appeal as barred under section 6259(c). In opposing the motion to dismiss, plaintiffs argued that section 6259(c) violates the "appellate jurisdiction" provision of the state Constitution (art. VI, § 11) to the extent it bars direct appeal of a final order of the superior court in a proceeding in which the superior court exercises original jurisdiction.

The Court of Appeal issued an opinion granting the motion to dismiss. The court interpreted the "appellate jurisdiction" provision of the state Constitution as granting the Courts of Appeal power to review final judgments and orders in all proceedings (except death penalty cases) in which superior courts exercise original jurisdiction, but also as not requiring any particular form or mode of this appellate review. Concluding that extraordinary writ petitions and direct appeals are alternative modes of appellate review, the Court of Appeal held that the "appellate jurisdiction" provision of the state Constitution does not deprive the Legislature of authority to specify that appellate review of superior court orders in PRA cases shall be by means of petition for extraordinary writ rather than by direct appeal.


Plaintiffs contend that the California Constitution, in section 11 of article VI, confers on litigants a right of direct appeal from final orders and judgments in proceedings in which superior courts exercise original jurisdiction. In their view, this constitutional right of appeal necessarily includes the rights to oral argument, a decision on the merits, and a written opinion explaining the basis of the appellate court's decision. 1

The issue plaintiffs raise requires that we construe our state Constitution. In construing constitutional provisions, the intent of the enacting body is the paramount consideration. (Davis v. City of Berkeley (1990) 51 Cal.3d 227, 234, 272 Cal.Rptr. 139, 794 P.2d 897.) To determine that intent, courts look first to the language of the constitutional text, giving the words their ordinary meaning. (Ibid.; see also, Bowens v. Superior Court (1991) 1 Cal.4th 36, 48, 2 Cal.Rptr.2d 376, 820 P.2d 600; Lungren v. Deukmejian (1988) 45 Cal.3d 727, 735, 248 Cal.Rptr. 115, 755 P.2d 299.) We begin, then, with the text of the constitutional provision on which plaintiffs rely:

"The Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction when judgment of death has been pronounced. With that exception courts of appeal have appellate jurisdiction when superior courts have original jurisdiction 2 and in other causes prescribed by statute. [p] Superior courts have appellate jurisdiction in causes prescribed by statute that arise in municipal and justice courts in their counties. [p] The Legislature may permit appellate courts to take evidence and make findings of fact when jury trial is waived or not a matter of right." (Cal. Const., art. VI, § 11.)

Nothing in the text of this provision conveys an intention to confer on litigants a right of direct appeal in cases within the original jurisdiction of the superior courts. Giving the words their ordinary meaning, the provision serves to establish and allocate judicial authority, not to define or guarantee the rights of litigants. Indeed, the provision nowhere mentions direct appeals or a "right of appeal."

The state Constitution does indeed establish a number of litigant rights, but it does so in article I, entitled "Declaration of Rights," rather than in article VI, entitled "Judicial." For example, section 16 of article I states: "Trial by jury is an inviolate right and shall be secured to all...." Had the people of this state intended to give similar constitutional status to a "right of appeal," it is reasonable to assume that they would have used equally direct language and would have placed the right in article I with the other personal rights.

Plaintiffs may be understood to argue that the term "appellate jurisdiction" means the power to decide direct appeals and that by giving the Courts of Appeal authority to decide direct appeals in all civil cases brought in superior court, the Constitution implicitly grants litigants a right to bring direct appeals in those same civil cases.

The ordinary meaning of "appellate jurisdiction" is broader than the meaning plaintiffs would ascribe to it. A legal dictionary defines "appellate" as "[p]ertaining to or having cognizance of appeals and other proceedings for the judicial review of adjudications. " (Black's Law Dictionary (6th ed. 1990) p. 97, Col. 2, italics added.) The same dictionary defines "appellate jurisdiction" as "[t]he power vested in an appellate court to review and revise the judicial action of an inferior court" and as "the power of review and determination on appeal, writ of error, certiorari, or other similar process." (Id. at p. 98, Col. 1, italics added.)

The United States Supreme Court has declared that the "essential criterion of appellate jurisdiction" is "that it revises and corrects the proceedings in a cause already instituted, and does not create that cause." (Marbury v. Madison (1803) 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, 175, 2 L.Ed. 60.) Applying this definition, the high court has concluded that appellate jurisdiction includes review by writ, including the writ of habeas corpus. (Ex parte Watkins (1833) 32 U.S. (7 Peters) 567, 572.) Courts in other states have given similar definitions of the term "appellate jurisdiction." (See, e.g., Ward School Bus. Mfg., Inc. v. Fowler (1977) 261 Ark. 100, 547 S.W.2d 394, 395 ["the review of an order or decree of an inferior court"]; Lane v. State (1944) 154 Fla. 853, 19 So.2d 366, 368 [" 'the power to take cognizance of and review proceedings in an inferior court irrespective of the manner in which they are brought up, whether by appeal or writ of error' "]; In re Constitutionality of House Bill No. 222 (Ct.App.1936) 262 Ky. 437, 90 S.W.2d 692, 693 [quoting the Marbury definition of "appellate jurisdiction"]; Rudnick v. City of Jamestown (N.D.1990) 463 N.W.2d 632, 636 ["the power of a superior court to review and revise a decision that has been rendered by an inferior court or tribunal"]; Carder v. Court of Criminal Appeals (Okla.1978) 595 P.2d 416, 419 ["that power and jurisdiction to review and correct those proceedings of inferior courts brought for determination in the manner provided by law"]; Waters-Pierce Oil Co. v. State (1907) 107 Tex. 1, 106 S.W. 326, 331 [" 'the power and authority conferred upon a superior court to rehear and determine causes which have been tried in inferior courts' "].)

As these authorities amply establish, the ordinary and widely accepted meaning of the term "appellate jurisdiction" is simply the power of a reviewing court to correct error in a trial court proceeding. By common understanding, a reviewing court may exercise this power in the procedural context of a direct appeal, a writ petition, or otherwise. Thus, a provision conferring "appellate jurisdiction" does not necessarily or strongly imply a right of litigants to bring direct appeals.

We conclude that textual analysis, which is the best indicator of the intended meaning of a constitutional provision, does not support plaintiffs'...

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