The California’s Supreme Court ruled June 5 that requiring an individual to pay a property tax to bring a suit against a local government entity unfairly limits a person’s rights.
Cherrity Weatherford, a resident San Rafael and Marin County, sued in 2013, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against Marin County. She challenged the policy of impounding vehicles without notice, alleging it was unconstitutional. The appellate court ruled Weatherford lacked standing because, as a renter, she pays no property taxes directly to the city or county. Although she does not own real property in the city or county, Weatherford argued that as a citizen who pays gas, sales taxes, water and sewage fees to Marin County, she has standing to challenge city and county polices.
Writing the opinion of the court, Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar noted that under the California Code of Civil Procedure Section 526a, certain individuals and corporations have a right to pursue legal actions enjoining wasteful or illegal expenditures by government entities. Whether someone can use this provision to begin a lawsuit depends on whether the person has standing to do so.
Cuellar stated, “Limiting individual plaintiffs’ use of the statute to those who pay property taxes is simply incompatible with the recognized need to construe the statute broadly. The court of appeals erred in holding to the contrary.”
Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye concurred, and wrote a separate opinion, urging the legislature to revisit section 526a and amend the statute in a manner that makes clear what kinds of taxes are sufficient to establish standing to sue a government entity for alleged wasteful or illegal expenditures.
The case has been remanded back to the superior court for further proceedings.
Weatherford was represented by attorneys Mark T. Clausen, Alan L. Schlosser, Richard A. Rothschild, Barbara A. Jones of Arnold & Porter, by Steven L. Mayer for American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, the Western Center on Law and Poverty, Legal Aid Association of California and the AARP.