Monday, November 16, 2015
Court Rejects Ex-Candidate’s Suit Over Election Results
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A candidate who claims to have lost an election because of misconduct by authorities cannot bring a tort action, the Sixth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
The panel, in an unpublished opinion by Justice Nathan Mihara Thursday, affirmed a Santa Clara Superior Court judge’s ruling in favor of the City of Sunnyvale.
Maria Pan sued the city in 2013, alleging fraud and deceit, discrimination, and defamation. She claimed that when she ran for the City Council in 2011, the official vote tallies—which showed Tara Martin-Milius with 7,601 votes, Fred Fowler with 7,210, and Pan with 1,759—were wrong and that the wrong candidates, not only for the seat she sought but for others, were seated.
Her complaint also alleged that she actually won the election but was “excluded” from the council because she is “Chinese, disabled, and Roman Catholic” and that officials falsely accused of her being mentally ill and of being “a spy, prostitute, murderer and child molester.” She sought compensatory and punitive damages.
Pan previously filed two election contests, both of which were rejected by the courts.
The city demurred to the tort complaint, on grounds of the statute of limitations, res judicata, collateral estoppel, and failure to plead sufficient facts to state a cause of action. The trial judge sustained the demurrer.
Mihara said the trial judge was correct.
“The statutory provisions regarding election contests are set forth in [Elections Code] section 16000 et seq. A trial court’s authority to invalidate an election is limited to the grounds specified in section 16100: misconduct by elections board members, ineligibility of the person declared elected to an office, bribery, illegal votes, denial of eligible voters’ right to vote, errors in the conduct of the election or canvassing of returns, or errors in the vote-counting programs or summation of ballot counts….In a general election, an election contest must be filed within 30 days from the date that the results are certified, or six months in cases of bribery.”
Pan, he said, offered no authority for the contention that a losing candidate can sue for damages based on an election result. The only remedies available to a candidate in that position, he said, are to ask the attorney general for leave to sue quo warranto or to bring an elections contest.
In Pan’s case, Mihara added, elections contests were filed, and established that she was not the winning candidate, which was fatal to her claims, apart from the defamation cause of action.
Mihara went on to say that Pan failed to state a cause of action for defamation because she failed to identify the individuals who allegedly made the statements or their relationship to the city, and did not allege “whether the statements were published orally or in writing [or] even when the statements occurred.”
The trial court, he said, did not abuse its discretion in denying leave to amend the claim.
The case is Pan v. City of Sunnyvale, H040782.
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