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Pritchett v. Spicer

Supreme Court of Arkansas

March 9, 2017

GEORGE PRITCHETT APPELLANT
v.
LANCE SPICER, CITY CLERK OF THE CITY OF HOT SPRINGS, ARKANSAS APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE GARLAND COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 26CV-16-302] HONORABLE MARCIA R. HEARNSBERGER, JUDGE

         AFFIRMED.

          Benjamin D. Hooten, for appellant.

          Brian Albright, Hot Springs City Attorney; and Friday, Eldredge & Clark, LLP, by: Elizabeth Robben Murray and Tory H. Lewis, for appellees.

          KAREN R. BAKER, Associate Justice

         This case stems from a referendum petition regarding land annexation in Garland County, Arkansas. On January 19, 2016, the Board of Directors of the City of Hot Springs passed Ordinance No. 6121 entitled, "An Ordinance Annexing Certain Lands that Are Completely Surrounded by the Incorporated Limits of the City of Hot Springs Enclave Area B (Tracts A & B); and for Other Purposes." On January 24, 2016, the City of Hot Springs published the ordinance in the Hot Springs Sentinal Record. On February 23, 2016, Mr. Rex Louis Houston, Jr., a petition sponsor, delivered a referendum petition in opposition to Ordinance No. 6121 to appellee, Lance Spicer, city clerk of Hot Springs. On that same day, Spicer rejected the petition as untimely and notified Houston.

         On March 22, 2016, appellant, George Pritchett, filed a petition for writ of mandamus in the Garland County Circuit Court requesting a writ commanding Spicer to accept and certify the petition and/or that the City of Hot Springs and its officials certify the petition.

         On May 2, 2016, the circuit court conducted a hearing on the petition for writ of mandamus. On May 16, 2016, by letter order, the circuit court denied Pritchett's petition and determined that Hot Springs Ordinance No. 4533 governs the time for filing the petition and that Pritchett's petition was untimely. On May 23, 2016, Pritchett filed a motion for reconsideration. On June 2, 2016, the circuit court entered an order and judgment denying Pritchett's petition for writ of mandamus. Pritchett timely filed a notice of appeal and subsequently amended his notice of appeal to appeal the deemed denial of his motion for reconsideration.

         From the circuit court's order denying his petition for writ of mandamus, Pritchett appeals and presents four issues: (1) the circuit court erred when it held that Ordinance No. 4533 governs the time for filing a referendum petition; (2) the circuit court erred when it held that Act 1093 is void to the extent it established contrary deadlines for filing referendum petitions for local measures; (3) Ordinance No. 4533 is subject to strict scrutiny and is unconstitutional; and (4) the circuit court erred in holding that the deadline for filing a referendum petition is thirty days after the passage of an ordinance.

         Standard of Review

         The purpose of a writ of mandamus in a civil or a criminal case is to enforce an established right or to enforce the performance of a duty. Smith v. Fox, 358 Ark. 388, 193 S.W.3d 238 (2004). When requesting a writ of mandamus, a petitioner must show a clear and certain right to the relief sought and the absence of any other adequate remedy. Manila Sch. Dist. No. 15 v. Wagner, 357 Ark. 20, 159 S.W.3d 285 (2004). The standard of review on a denial of a writ of mandamus is whether the circuit court abused its discretion. Dobbins v. Democratic Party of Ark., 374 Ark. 496, 499, 288 S.W.3d 639, 641 (2008). A circuit court abuses its discretion when it makes a decision that is arbitrary or capricious. Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharm., Inc. v. State, 2014 Ark. 124, 18, 432 S.W.3d 563, 575 (internal citations omitted).

         Additionally, this appeal requires us to interpret the Arkansas Constitution. We review questions of constitutional construction de novo. See Wilson v. Weiss, 370 Ark. 205, 258 S.W.3d 351 (2007). When interpreting the constitution, our task is to read the laws as they are written and interpret them in accordance with established principles of constitutional construction. Brewer v. Fergus, 348 Ark. 577, 79 S.W.3d 831 (2002). Language of a constitutional provision that is plain and unambiguous must be given its obvious and common meaning. Proctor v. Daniels, 2010 Ark. 206, 392 S.W.3d 360. Neither rules of construction nor rules of interpretation may be used to defeat the clear and certain meaning of a constitutional provision. Id. Further, the Arkansas Constitution must be considered as a whole, and every provision must be read in light of other provisions relating to the same subject matter. Forrester v. Daniels, 2010 Ark. 397, 373 S.W.3d 871. Also, amendment 7 to the Arkansas Constitution must be liberally construed in order to effectuate its purposes. Porter v. McCuen, 310 Ark. 674, 839 S.W.2d 521 (1992). Finally, we note when interpreting statutes, our review is de novo, as it is for this court to decide what a statutory provision means. Ark. Hotels and Entm't, Inc. v. Martin, 2012 Ark. 335, 423 S.W.3d 49. In considering the meaning of a statute, we consider it just as it reads, giving the words their ordinary and usually accepted meaning. Miller v. Enders, 2013 Ark. 23, at 5-6, 425 S.W.3d 723, 726-27 (internal citations omitted). With these standards in mind, we turn to the merits of Pritchett's appeal.

         Points on Appeal

         A. Ordinance No. 4533

Pritchett first contends that the circuit court erred when it found that Ordinance No. 4533 governs the time for filing a referendum petition on Ordinance No. 6121. In reviewing the applicable constitutional ...

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