Court Holds Prop 59 Does Not Abrogate the Common Law Mental Processes Principle


In Sutter's Place v. Superior Court of Santa Clara County, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth District upheld a trial court discovery order protecting specified documents from disclosure on the ground that discovery would violate the common law mental processes principle which precludes judicial inquiry into the motivation or mental processes of legislators in enacting legislation. Petitioner Sutter's Place ("Petitioner") sought discovery of documents reflecting the motives and thoughts process of the City of San Jose Mayor and/or City Council relating to the adoption of an ordinance which Petitioner was challenging. Petitioner's challenged the trial court's order denying discovery of specified documents on the grounds that Proposition 59 abrogated the common law mental processes principle.

Proposition 59 (California Constitution, article I, section 3) amended the California Constitution to include the public right to access public records. It is considered by some to be the constitutionalization of the California Public Records Act ("CPRA"). The Court found that under the CPRA, public records to which the mental processes principle applies are exempt from disclosure in accordance with California Government Code Section 6254(k) which exempts from disclosure public records whose disclosure is prohibited pursuant to federal or state law, including the common law and constitutional separation-of-powers principles, such as the mental processes principle. The Court held that there is no inherent inconsistency between the application of Proposition 59 and the mental processes principle which precludes their concurrent operation and there is no evidence of an intent by the voters to supersede, override, or alter the operation of the mental processes principle under Proposition 59.

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