State Supreme Court rules in favor of residents sued by Boulder City over initiative petitions

CARSON CITY — Five Boulder City residents who were sued by the city in 2010 for circulating initiative petitions to address several different issues of concern have won a victory from the Nevada Supreme Court.

The court reversed District Court rulings that refused to dismiss the lawsuits filed by the city against Walt Rapp, Daniel Jensen, James Douglass, Frank Fisher and Cynthia Harris.

The full court, in a unanimous decision, upheld their claims that they were the victims of SLAPP, or strategic lawsuit against public participation, legal actions by the city.

The high court ordered the cases back to District Court, where attorneys’ fees and costs will be awarded to Linda and Tracy Strickland, the attorneys who represented the five residents in the case.

Linda Strickland said Monday the ruling is a complete vindication for the residents who only sought to exercise their constitutional right to engage in the initiative process.

It is also a First Amendment victory for Boulder City residents, Strickland said.

“Basically my clients have won what they should have gotten all along, which was not to be sued,” she said. “It’s kind of a hollow victory.”

The attorneys’ fees and costs will cost Boulder City about $100,000, Strickland said.

The five residents decided to circulate four petitions in 2010 after the city failed to consider their concerns, she said.

The petitions sought to put a limit on the amount of debt that could be incurred by the city without voter approval; to make it a policy of the city to own no more than one golf course; to apply term limits to appointees to citizen committees; and to make the city attorney job an elected position.

Two proposals, the debt limit and term limits measures, were approved by voters.

But the city sued the five residents as individuals in three separate cases, one initiated before and two after the election.

The city argued that the three actions were not SLAPP lawsuits because it had legal authority to file a lawsuit to review an initiative’s validity.

The city also argued that a ruling against the lawsuits would mean that municipalities would not be able to challenge ballot initiatives.

But the court, after reviewing legislative history on the issue, including clarifications to the state’s anti-SLAPP statutes made in 2013, ruled in favor of the residents and reversed the lower court decisions.

Boulder City Attorney Dave Olsen could not be reached for comment on the decision, which was dated Jan. 24.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Follow him on Twitter @seanw801.