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A&A: How to file a Brown Act complaint

A: The City Planning Commission considered an item not on the agenda, discussed it, and voted to deny it. I want to file a complaint. Where can I find what to do, the timeline, and a sample complaint?

Q: If you feel that the Brown Act was violated, the first step would be to send a letter to the planning commission demanding that it cure or correct the action taken in violation of the Brown Act.

“The demand shall be in writing and clearly describe the challenged action of the legislative body and nature of the alleged violation,” and must usually be made within 90 days — but sometimes within 30 days — of the action. Id.

It is not necessary that this demand come from an attorney; any individual may make such a demand. If the agency does not cure or correct with the prescribed time limitations, the next step would be to seek a judicial determination that the board’s actions are null and void. Gov’t Code § 54960.1(a).

A citizen who prevails in an action to enforce the Brown Act may be entitled to recover attorneys’ fees. The details of this enforcement procedure are set out in Section 54960.1 of the Government Code. (see https://firstamendmentcoalition.org/brown-act/).

Again, it is not necessary that an attorney file any court action, although if you reach this stage with the commission, you may want to seek assistance in order to ensure that the proper procedure is followed.
Another option is bringing an action to seek a judicial determination that a particular act by the commission violated the Brown Act. Gov. Code § 54960. Under that course of action, nothing is nullified — a successful litigant simply ends up with a court order stating that the action at issue violated the Brown Act (and that the legislative body should not do it again).

You can find additional information about enforcing the Brown Act at the First Amendment Coalition web site at https://firstamendmentcoalition.org/category/resources/access-to-meetings/.

If you would like to retain legal counsel to assist you in this matter, you may be able to find an attorney through the FAC’s Lawyer’s Assistance Request Form at https://firstamendmentcoalition.org/legal-hotline/lawyers-assistance-request-form/.

Holme Roberts & Owen LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.

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