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Cummings v. Stanley

September 4, 2009

PAUL CUMMINGS, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
WALTER STANLEY III ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND RESPONDENTS.



(Alameda County Super. Ct. No. RG-08-400144), Honorable Frank Roesch.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Graham, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Plaintiff brought the present action pursuant to Elections Code sections 16100, subdivision (b), and 16440, subdivision (a), to contest the eligibility of defendants, Walter Stanley III, Lea Smart, Casey Fargo, Deslar Patten, Christopher Kuhn, John W. Bartlett, and David Latour, for election to positions on the Alameda County Republican Central Committee (the Committee).*fn1 The trial court dismissed the action on the ground that plaintiff failed to file the action within the statutory five-day time limit for primary election contests. We conclude that an election of party central committee members is not a primary election, and is governed by a 30-day time limit to file a contest to elections other than primary elections. We therefore find that plaintiff timely filed his election contest, and reverse the judgment.

STATEMENT OF FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On June 3, 2008, defendants were elected as members of the Committee from various districts within Alameda County. On July 8, 2008, the ―official canvass‖ for the election was completed by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, and defendants were declared elected to office as members of the Committee. Plaintiff was a qualified elector of Alameda County and chairman of the Committee when the election occurred, although he did not reside and vote in any of the assembly districts from which defendants were elected.

On July 25, 2008, plaintiff filed a statement of election contest (the statement) in which he claimed that respondents were ―not eligible to seek and hold membership‖ in the Committee under section 8001, subdivision (a). Plaintiff also asserted that the Registrar of Voters of Alameda County erroneously declared defendants elected to the Committee despite their lack of eligibility to ―hold membership‖ and lack of compliance with the eligibility requirements of section 8001, subdivisions (a) and (b). He requested a finding that defendants were ―erroneously elected,‖ and an order setting aside their election as members of the Committee.

Defendants filed answers in which they generally denied the allegations of the statement and asserted defenses or objections, one of which is that the action ―is untimely‖ due to the failure of plaintiff to file the statement within the five-day time limit specified in section 16421 to contest a primary election. They requested dismissal of the action.

A hearing on election contest was held on November 12, 2008, at which the trial court considered the declarations and other documentary evidence presented by the parties. The court found that the election of June 3, 2008, which resulted in the declaration of defendants as elected members of the Committee, was a primary rather than general election. As a result, plaintiff was bound by the five-day time limit to file the primary election contest (§ 16421), not the 30-day time limit that governs general elections (§ 16401). Therefore, plaintiff's action was dismissed as ―untimely‖ filed. This appeal followed.

DISCUSSION

Certain facts in the present appeal are undisputed: the election of defendants occurred on June 3, 2008; the result of the election was officially certified by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors on July 8, 2008; plaintiff filed the election contest on July 25, 2008, more than five days but less than 30 days after the official canvass was completed. The parties agree that if plaintiff has contested a ―primary election‖ his contest is untimely and cannot proceed, but if he has contested a ―general election‖ result his action is timely.

The dispute before us focuses on the nature of the election. Plaintiff claims that defendants were not nominated in a primary election, but rather were elected as members of the Committee in a ―general election,‖ and thus under section 16401, subdivision (d), he had 30 days after the official declaration of the result to file the election contest. Defendants maintain that the June 3, 2008, election is specifically defined as a ―direct primary election‖ in section 316, and plaintiff did not meet the applicable five-day deadline of section 16421 to file his election contest.

I. The Standing of Plaintiff to Bring the Present Action

Before proceeding to the merits of plaintiff's claim that he has filed a timely contest to a general election, we confront two preliminary issues raised by defendants in this appeal. First, defendants argue that plaintiff ―has no standing to contest‖ the election ―under either of two statutory grounds provided by the Legislature.‖ They maintain that plaintiff cannot bring an election contest under section 16100, as neither does he reside nor may he vote in any of the districts within Alameda County in which defendants were elected.*fn2 They also claim that he cannot contest the election under section 16101, because he was not a ―candidate at a primary election‖ as required by that statute.

A lack of standing is a jurisdictional defect to an action that mandates dismissal. (Common Cause v. Board of Supervisors (1989) 49 Cal.3d 432, 438 [261 Cal.Rptr. 574, 777 P.2d 610]; Hudis v. Crawford (2005) 125 Cal.App.4th 1586, 1592 [24 Cal.Rptr.3d 50].) ― ‗[A] complaint by a party lacking standing fails to state a cause of action by ...


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