Appellate Court Holds That Constitution Overrides Statutory Exemption Related to Proposition 218 Assessments; Reclamation Districts Are Permitted to Assess School Districts

by Downey Brand LLP

In a reversal of a lower court decision, the Third District Court of Appeal has held that the California Constitution’s provisions related to Proposition 218 override a statutory exemption that a school district argued originally precluded a reclamation district from assessing its property.  Manteca Unified School District v. Reclamation District 17 (Third Appellate District, Case No. C077906). Downey Brand filed an amicus brief in support of Reclamation District 17.


Reclamation District 17 (District) is a flood control and drainage district in San Joaquin County.  It assesses property within its boundaries for the costs associated with a levee seepage project.  Manteca Unified School District (Manteca) owns real property within the district’s boundaries. 

The district is governed by Sections 50000 et seq. of the California Water Code, including section 51200, which provides that assessments levied by reclamation districts include all lands within the district “…other than public roads, highways, and school districts.” (Water Code section 51200)

Proposition 218, which was approved by voters in 1996, added to the California Constitution provisions regarding benefit assessments and property-related fees.  Article XIIID, section 4(a) provides that parcels owned by any agency or the State “shall not be exempt from assessment unless the agency can demonstrate by clean and convincing evidence that those publicly owned parcels in fact receive no special benefit.”  Section 1 of Article XIIID clarifies that it does not “[p]rovide any new authority to any agency to impose a tax, assessment, fee, or charge.”

When the District formed its assessment district, landowners approved the assessment by nearly 70 percent, and Manteca voted “yes.”  Manteca then paid its annual assessment billings for the next three fiscal years.  In 2011, Manteca informed the District that it was not required to pay the assessment because Water Code section 51200 exempts school district property from the levy of assessments, and then brought a declaratory relief claim in court seeking reimbursement of the assessment payments it had made.

Court Decision

The trial court held in favor of Manteca, finding that the District’s assessment was invalid under section 51200, because Prop 218 was not intended to provide new authority to local agencies to impose assessments. 

The Court of Appeal reversed, considering at length the interaction between the statutory provision exempting school districts from assessment and the Constitutional provision providing for no exemption unless there is evidence that a parcel receives no special benefit.  Concluding that the passage of Proposition 218 changed the rules pertaining to exemptions from assessment, the Court noted that the Constitutional provision “supersedes section 51200 in both time and stature.” 

The Court disagreed with Manteca’s argument that the District simply lacked authority to assess it, and Prop 218 by its own language did not add such authority.  Prop 218 was narrowly tailored with respect to exemptions from assessment by “conditioning the continuation of any existing exemption from an existing assessment authority upon a showing of no special benefit.”

The Court treated section 51200’s exemption of school districts as an exemption from the District’s general authority to assess public property, not as stating that there was no authority, and noted that Manteca’s argument that an exemption means no authority would make article XIII D of the Constitution meaningless. 

This case answers an important question about the apparent inconsistency between the Constitution’s provision on Prop 218 and statutory provision exempting certain properties from assessment.  Assessing agencies have legitimate concerns about their Prop 218 liability in the context of a property owner refusing to pay an assessment, because arguably other property owners’ payments would no longer be proportional to their benefit, and this is an important requirement of Prop 218.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Downey Brand LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Downey Brand LLP

Downey Brand LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.