Adler v. City Council of Culver City was a case before the California Supreme Court in 1960 which established a precedent for open official meetings prior to the passage of the California Open Meeting Act.
This case established a number of key precedents applying to the California Open Meeting Act:
1.) The Brown Act can only be construed to include official meetings where clear deliberation and voting occurs.
2.) Violations of the Brown Act are punishable as misdemeanors and can in no way be used to overturn later decisions made within the law.
- Culver city operates with a city council of 5 mores and a zoning commission of 9 members whose function is to advise the city council on zoning issues. City statutes require any zoning change proposition to go through two public hearings. The first hearing is conducted by the zoning commission and the second is conducted by the city council. At the city council's hearing, the city takes into account the advice of the zoning commission and votes on whether or not to permit the change in zoning.
- On June 17, 1958 Blanco filed an application for a zoning change. A hearing was held by the zoning commission on July 30, 1958, and August 20, 1958 and a report was submitted to the city council. The council's hearing occurred on October 6, 1958. All hearings were made pursuant to the California Open Meeting Act.
- The commission officially finished its report on September 3, 1958. The city council voted on October 8, 1958 to pass the zoning ordinance change, per Blanco's request. However, in their resolution, the city rejected a number of the 14 stipulations the zoning commission had laid out in their recommmendation, feeling that they were unnecessary and cumbersome to Blanco.
- Adler immediately filed suit alleging that the entire procedure should be overturned and deemed illegal due to a violation of California's Brown Act, which protects against secret meetings. Adler argues that on June 13, 1958, four days before Blanco's application was submitted, Blanco held a dinner to which he invited the members of the city council to discuss zoning changes and Blanco's plan for the rezoned area.
- Blanco and the city council argued that no commitments were made and no resolutions were passed at the dinner. They also argued that the council did not deliberate the soon to be proposed zoning change. They further contended that the Brown Act did not apply to charter cities.
- The trial court ruled in favor of the city and Adler appealed.
Ruling of the court
The trial court ruled in favor of the city, stating that California law did not apply to the dinner party.
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the trial court and maintained that the city had done no wrong.
The Supreme Court determined that because the zoning proposal had not been submitted and the conversation at the dinner varied, without any real structure or guidance, and included topics concerning the zoning proposal as well as other topics, the dinner meeting was not to be considered a formal meeting. The court also felt that any attempt to construe the Brown Act to include informal meetings would seriously hamper the free flow of information and the city council's ability to research proposed changes outside of city meetings. The court also determined that advisory boards were not subject to the Brown Act because they serve as only advisors and hold no legislative power. The court also felt that ample opportunity and discussion had been given to all interested parties in the zoning exchange, through open meetings pursuant to the Brown Act.Based on these facts, the court determined that the dinner meeting was not subject to the Brown Act. The court also determined that, if the meeting had been illegal, it would not have overturned all the later findings of the city council but would have been tried as a misdemeanor violation of state law.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Ruling of the Court from findlaw.com(requires free registration)