June 17, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Bruce v. City of Colorado Springs

on June 10, 2010.

Single Subject Ordinance—Disqualification of Trial Judge.

This was an appeal of a trial court order issued after remand from an earlier appeal to the Court of Appeals (Bruce I), which concluded that the City of Colorado Spring’s (City) single subject ordinance is not unconstitutional and that plaintiff’s petition for an initiated ordinance violated the single subject rule. Plaintiff also appealed the trial court’s order denying his motion seeking disqualification of the trial court judge. The Court affirmed.

Plaintiff had unsuccessfully attempted to place an initiative on the municipal ballot intended to prevent the City’s use of non-business enterprises to serve as “fronts for traditional governmental public works projects paid for by force fees (taxes) outside TABOR’s spending limit.” Plaintiff argued that the City’s single subject ordinance is unconstitutional because it was adopted without first holding a public election to allow voters to decide the matter through a state constitutional amendment and because it violates the right to petition. The Court disagreed.

Colo. Const. art. XX, § 6, grants a home rule city or town broad powers, including all those of the General Assembly, with regard to local and municipal electoral matters. Colo. Const. art. V, § 1(9), also permits cities to provide for the manner of exercising the initiative and referendum powers as to their municipal legislation. The City is authorized to enact ordinances establishing the manner in which municipal legislation is exercised, which clearly includes ordinances that require initiatives submitted for voter approval to contain only single subjects. The Court adopted the reasoning of the Tenth Circuit in Campbell v. Buckley, 203 F.3d 738, 746-47 (10th Cir. 2000), in further finding that a single subject requirement does not violate the right to petition.

The Court rejected plaintiff’s argument that the trial court erred in concluding that his initiative contains more than a single subject in violation of the City’s ordinance. An initiative violates the requirement when it (1) relates to more than one subject and (2) has at least two distinct and separate purposes. The Court agreed that the initiative contained more than one subject with distinct and separate purposes.

Finally, the Court rejected plaintiff’s contention that the trial judge should have disqualified himself. The test under C.R.C.P. 97 is whether the motion and supporting affidavits allege sufficient facts from which it may reasonably be inferred that the judge is prejudiced or biased, or appears to be prejudiced or biased, against a party to the litigation. Plaintiff’s motion was accompanied by his own affidavit alleging the trial judge was biased and prejudiced against him based on his prior rulings and his facial expressions. The motion was insufficient to warrant recusal.

This summary is published here courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer. Other summaries by the Colorado Court of Appeals on June 10, 2010, can be found here.

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