LOS ANGELES, Sept. 3, 2021 — In a legal victory for unhoused people in Los Angeles, an appellate court on Thursday affirmed a ruling of the U.S. District Court in April 2020, which prevents the City from enforcing a provision of the municipal code that allowed the City to seize and immediately destroy homeless people’s belongings, based solely on the size of the item.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court that the ordinance likely violates the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and affirmed the District Court’s preliminary injunction, prohibiting the City from continuing this practice.
The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Schonbrun Seplow Harris Hoffman & Zeldes, Kirkland & Ellis, McGuireWoods and the Human Rights Litigation Clinic at UCLA School of Law represent Plaintiffs, a group of unhoused individuals and a community organization, KTown For All, who filed the lawsuit in July 2019.
In their lawsuit, Plaintiffs alleged that, pursuant to LA Municipal Code (LAMC) Section 56.11, the City routinely seizes and destroys homeless people’s belongings. Under the provision of the law at issue in the appeal, LA Sanitation and Police Department did not need a warrant or to give homeless people any notice before they seize items they determine are “bulky.” People had no opportunity to contest city workers’ on-the-spot determination that items can be immediately destroyed; and in fact, under another provision of the law, which is also enjoined, individuals who resist the city’s decision to immediately take and throw away their possessions could be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor, which carries a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.
One of the plaintiffs, an unhoused resident in Harbor City, was using a homemade cart to move his belongings out of the way of an LA Sanitation cleanup. LAPD officers stopped him and demanded he turn over the cart or face arrest; after confiscating it, LA Sanitation summarily threw it in the trash. Another plaintiff lost a dog kennel he used to provide shelter to his dog.
Other plaintiffs lost chairs, cots, coolers, and other items they needed to survive on the streets.
“What our client and unhoused residents have faced at the hands of LAPD and LA Sanitation may be consistent with Los Angeles’s municipal code, but the Ninth Circuit affirmed today that it’s not allowed under the U.S. Constitution,” said Shayla Myers, an attorney with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.
According to Mike Dickerson, an organizer with Ktown for All, an organization working to support unhoused residents in Koreatown and a plaintiff in the case, “LAMC 56.11 is a terrible law, and today’s victory is even more proof that the City needs to pay more attention to unhoused people’s right and experiences instead of just passing laws that criminalize homelessness and violate unhoused people’s rights.”
About Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles
Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) seeks to achieve equal justice for people living in poverty across Greater Los Angeles. LAFLA changes lives through direct representation, systems change and community empowerment. It has five offices in Los Angeles County, along with four Self-Help Legal Access Centers at area courthouses and three domestic violence clinics to aid survivors.
About Kirkland & Ellis
Kirkland & Ellis is an international law firm with approximately 2,900 attorneys representing clients in private equity, M&A and other complex corporate transactions, litigation and dispute resolution/arbitration, restructuring, and intellectual property matters. The Firm operates from offices in 17 cities around the world: Austin, Beijing, Boston, Brussels, Chicago, Dallas, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Munich, New York, Palo Alto, Paris, San Francisco, Shanghai and Washington, D.C.
About Schonbrun Seplow Harris Hoffman & Zeldes
Schonbrun Seplow Harris & Hoffman LLP is a plaintiffs’ side firm which focuses on civil rights, international human rights, and plaintiffs’ side employment litigation.
McGuireWoods LLP is a leading international law firm with 1,100 lawyers in 21 offices worldwide. It continuously ranks among the top firms in Financial Times’ prestigious North America Innovative Lawyers report and the firm was recently named to The National Law Journal’s Pro Bono Hot List. McGuireWoods has been recognized 15 times on BTI Consulting’s Client Service A-Team — elite firms singled out for client service excellence based on unprompted feedback from clients in major companies. For more information, visit www.mcguirewoods.com.
About the Human Rights Litigation Clinic at UCLA School of Law
The Human Rights Litigation Clinic at UCLA School of Law is a program of the Promise Institute for Human Rights. Its work focuses on issues such as accountability, race and indigeneity, and domestic cases involving human rights.