L.A. Violated Constitutional Rights of Homeless, Court Finds

City cannot randomly remove homeless persons' property from the street.

The City of Los Angeles cannot randomly remove homeless residents’ street property left unattended, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

In a 2-1 ruling, the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling that found L.A. and other cities cannot violate the Fourth Amendment right of homeless people unless a clear threat to public health or safety is present, or if the property is illegal or at the scene of a crime.

The case stems from a dispute between Skid Row residents and the city over property seizures in February and March of 2011. In protest, homeless residents obtained an injunction against the city that prevented it from further sweeps. They claimed several people’s valuable possessions—including birth certificates, medications and family memorabilia—were destroyed. Skid Row residents also argued that they had not abandoned their property, but left it temporarily to either shower or eat.

Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw agreed. 

“We conclude that the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments protect homeless persons from government seizure and summary destruction of their unabandoned, but momentarily unattended, personal property,” she wrote.

Frank Mateljan, spokesman for the City Attorney's Office, said his office is reviewing its options and may appeal the decision.

In the meantime, he said, the city would “continue to take steps to protect public health by removing dangerous, contaminated items” from public walkways along Skid Row in conjunction with the Department of Public Works-related Operation Healthy Streets effort.

In court documents, the city does not deny destroying the property and claims it's authorized to conduct such sweeps under an L.A. municipal ordinance which states that “no person shall leave or permit to remain any merchandise, baggage or any article of personal property upon any parkway or sidewalk.”

“The pivotal question under both Amendments is not whether Plaintiffs had a property interest in the items seized—they may very well have had such an interest,” wrote dissenting Judge Consuelo Callahan. “But whether that interest is one that society would recognize as reasonably worthy of protection where the personal property is left unattended on public sidewalks."

City News Service contributed to this report.

Another WorldView September 08, 2012 at 02:38 AM
Great points!
Another WorldView September 08, 2012 at 02:55 AM
The stuff you're describing were all "found-objects". Found where, you might ask - why in the streets and alleys of Venice. Do you think that the people who left those items out originally, were UnHoused, or Housed? My money is on the latter. And four hours seems like an arbitrary number. And unless you're questioning the citizenship of the UnHoused - my guess is that "all citizens" and "detriment", would be in the eye of the beholder. They might disagree with you. As for out-houses, are you now calling for accessible and secure 24-hour public bathrooms in Venice, all of a sudden. Certainly your adoption of this internationally unquestioned HUMAN RIGHT, would seem to be a change in position. Should the city begin installing self-cleaning restrooms of the sort near Pershing Square, in Venice now? Where do you think that they should be sited? 3rd and Rose seems like a good start - but I'll wait for your suggestions, too. "This is an imbecilic decision and should be appealed." There you go folks - Mark Ryavec is running on the 'let's waste money on frivolous appeals - to help justify a regime of cruel and inhumane policies' platform. By the time it gets to the Supremes - I wonder if you'll still have a hard-right majority to rely upon?
concernedneighbor September 08, 2012 at 03:13 PM
I agree a check in center would be a good idea. The question is how much stuff and how long? Do you think folks would really use it? I disagree on the large items argument. Couches and mattresses don't belong on the sidewalk regardless of where they came from. It's shameful for people to leave these items out bc they're too cheap or lazy to dispose of them properly but that doesn't mean that they should stay on streets. I think you'd agree that even the un-housed would benefit from the city cleaning 3rd street and removing what is clearly trash (food wrappers, empty cups and bottles, empty boxes) but now the cities hands are tied and 3rd will turn into a mess again which isn't good for the housed or un-housed...
Another WorldView September 09, 2012 at 12:07 PM
How about some (permanent/semi-permanent) trash cans for starters - stuff left in those, could reasonably be expected to be "stolen" by the city, on a weekly basis. I'm not arguing FOR large items - just pointing out that these are cast-offs from the Housed Community. As such (since the UnHoused rarely have the capability of taking them to the transfer station, themselves), it doesn't seem to me like any great harm, if people who are suffering without - otherwise - repurpose them in the meanwhile. As I've mentioned before - once folks realized that the couch which they'd inheirited, was suffering from Bed Bugs, they were the first to put it out by the curb (saving the city the trouble of navigating down an un(der)paved alley, to get it, in all likelihood). If they aren't a health hazard to the people on 3rd St - in their own estimation - and aren't making the sidewalk impassable - I personally find it cruel to take them away, from those who want them - but that's just me.
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