Cipriano v. City of Houma

RESPONDENT: City of Houma
LOCATION: Circuit Court of Mobile County

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1969)

CITATION: 395 US 701 (1969)
ARGUED: Apr 24, 1969
DECIDED: Jun 16, 1969

Facts of the case


Media for Cipriano v. City of Houma

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 24, 1969 in Cipriano v. City of Houma

Earl Warren:

Number 705, Joseph Q.Cipriano, appellant versus City of Houma, et al.

Mr. Watkins.

Kenneth Watkins:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case presents the question as to whether or not this Court's decision in Harper versus Virginia State Board of Elections applies to a local revenue bond election limited to property taxpayers who have no special interest in the election which would warrant their limitation.

The facts of this case may be briefly stated as follows.

This suit was brought by Joseph Q. Cipriano as a class action.

Mr. Cipriano is a resident of and a duly registered and qualified voter in the City of Houma, Louisiana.

The plaintiff does not own any real property in the City of Houma nor does he pay any property taxes on any such property.

On October 24, 1967, an election was held pursuant to the statute challenged in this suit to authorize the issuance of utility revenue bonds.

Under the applicable statute, the election was specifically limited to resident, property taxpayers, appellant and all similarly situation -- situated persons who are prohibitive from voting in this election by the effect of the statute.

The purpose of the election was to obtain authorization from the electorate to issue $10 million worth of utility revenue bonds with which to expand the utility system of the City of Houma.

The election received a favorable vote by the property taxpayers.

Of the 11,606 registered voters in the City of Houma, 4,680 are property taxpayers.

Of that latter number, 2,724 actually voted in this election, 1,828 voted in favor of this proposition, 896 against it.

The appellant brought this suit within the 60-day period allowed and provided for by Louisiana statute and contesting -- contested the constitutionality of the voter classification or qualification.

The trial court and the divided opinion with the dissent by Justice Wisdom rejected appellant's contention and from that decision of a three-judge court, the appellant appeals to this Court.

Potter Stewart:

Under the law of simple majority of the property owners is sufficient, is it?

Kenneth Watkins:

Under the law, it is required Your Honor that there be a majority in both number and amount as we shall point out.

Potter Stewart:

I was -- I didn't --

Kenneth Watkins:

In number of the taxpayers, voting and a majority of the assessed property owned by those taxpayers who are actually voting them.

Potter Stewart:

That wasn't clear.

Kenneth Watkins:

Yes sir.

All revenue -- it's important to note that all revenue derived from the operation of the utility system over and above that first revenue dedicated to repaying the bond goes into the general fund of the City of Houma and is used for general city services.

Now we make special note of the fact that this is a utility, revenue bond election as distinguished from bonds which are payable from the proceeds of property or ad valorem taxes.

The applicable statutes provide that the revenue bonds authorized by this election shall be repaid exclusively and solely from the income derived from the operation of the utility.

And we maintain that by this limitation it's conceded effectively precludes or prohibits the imposition or use of any tax money to repay these bonds.

Additionally, the statutes also provide that the full faith and credit of the issuing authority is not at stake.

Only the pledged revenues of the utility are allowed to secure the repayment of these bonds.

As I shall show, a property owner has no greater stake or interest in this election than in nonproperty owner as neither his property nor his property rights can in any way be effected by the outcome of this election.

Now, the statute of the State of Louisiana which required the ownership of property we maintain therefore invidiously discriminating this instance against the appellant and members of his class who together comprise 60% of the registered voters of the City of Houma.