Lamonna v. Bower (3/12/2015)

March 23, 2015

Arizona Court of Appeals Division Two holds that (1) failing to strictly comply with A.R.S. § 19-111(B) renders all signature sheets of a referendum petition invalid and (2) § 19-111(B) is constitutional.

In December 2014, Shirley Lamonna filed an application for a referendum petition serial number, challenging the Town of Oro Valley’s decision to purchase a country club for the purpose of converting it into a community center.  Lamonna received a serial number and in January 2015, returned 249 petition signature sheets to the clerk’s office.  The Town clerk rejected the petition sheets because they did not have the assigned serial number printed on the front and back of the sheets as required by A.R.S. § 19-111(B).  Lamonna filed a statutory special action, seeking a writ of mandamus compelling the clerk to accept the sheets.  The trial court ruled in favor of the Town clerk and Lamonna appealed.

The Court of Appeals confirmed that the trial court properly upheld the Town clerk’s decision to reject the petition sheets.  The Court explained that the legislature has broad power to regulate the referendum process, and that legislation stands if it reasonably supplements the constitutional purpose without unreasonably hindering or restricting the constitutional provision.  The Court concluded that the requirement to list the serial number on each side of the petition sheet is reasonable and is not unreasonably restrictive.  Omitting the serial number would undermine the ability of the Town clerk and the Secretary of State to ensure the validity and authenticity of referenda petitions statewide.  Moreover, the instructions regarding the serial number requirement are clear and unambiguous.  In fact, Lamonna acknowledged that she simply made a mistake when creating the petitions. 

The Court also held that, with regard to referendum petitions, the applicants must strictly comply with the statutory requirements, noting that a referendum gives the power to suspend, and possibly revoke, legislation.  In addition, the Court rejected Lamonna’s argument that the term “shall” in the statute was anything less than mandatory.  Distinguishing other cases in which the Court has excused minor violations of statutory requirements, the Court explained that the “presumption of validity with respect to the petition could not be restored because the petition was never correct, not from the moment Lamonna obtained it and not at the time the signatures were obtained.” 

Presiding Judge Miller authored the opinion.  Chief Judge Eckerstrom and Judge Espinosa concurred.