Cohan v. City of Thousand Oaks was a case before California's Second District Court of Appeal in 1994 concerning open meetings.
This case established that an accumulated list of violations of due process law could be construed as a prejudiced decision resulting a full enforcement of the California Open Meeting Act.
- Cohan owned 47 acres of land within the city, which he was trying to develop into a residential area including a number of homes and condominiums as well as a shopping center.
- After 15 years of work, the project was finally approved by the planning commission on June 29, 1992.
- The opportunity for the city council to appeal the decision ended on July 10, 1992.
- On July 7, 1992 a number of citizens voiced concerns about the project at a city council meeting. Based on these concerns, the council decided to waive the open meetings act's requirement of notice (Section 54954.2, subdivision (a) mandates a 72 hour notice of meeting agendas) and conduct the hearing for the appeal that day due to the urgency of the situation.
- At the end of the meeting, the council agreed to appeal the decision and scheduled the appeal date for July 28, 1992. Cohan, who was present at this meeting, agreed to the appeal date.
- At the hearing, the council appealed the decision and overturned the decision of the planning committee.
- Immediately after the hearing, the Cohan filed suit in court alleging that the council had failed to follow its own appeal policies.
- The trial court agreed with Cohan, determining that the city council violated its own statutes as well as the California Open Meeting Act. However, the court deemed the violation harmless and thus ruled in favor of the city council.
- Cohan appealed the decision.
Ruling of the court
The trial court ruled in favor of the city despite agreeing with Cohan on a number of points. The court felt that the city council had violated the law because no written appeal was ever issued, the council cannot call an appeal, only individuals, and that the council violated the California Open Meeting Act because it did not have adequate justification for urgency to hold the appeal. However, it felt that the violations were of no harm because had the council not done it, surely one of the interested parties would have filed the appeal.
The court of appeals ruled in favor of Cohan and ordered the council's appeal nullified
The court ruled, first and foremost that the Brown Act had been violated. No sense of urgency existed because there had been ample time for any individual to file and appeal and the large number of concerned citizens at the meeting were most likely present at the planning committee meetings as well. However, the court recognized that violating open meetings law does not necessarily result in an overturning of a decision but that the violation must occur due to prejudice. However, the court ruled that the city council had no right to appeal the decision to itself. The court felt that this violated the requirement of an impartial judge granted in a right to due process. Further, there was ample opportunity for an individual citizen to file an appeal before the closing date. This compounding of factors resulted in a flagrant and prejudiced decision where, according to the court, the council submitted to the crowd and ignored the due process rights of Cohan. Due to this flagrant abandonment of due process, the court overturned the trial courts decision and ordered the decision of the council negated.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 Ruling of the Court