A federal appeals court has ruled that Los Angeles cannot collect and dump the large belongings of homeless individuals.

September 20, 2021

On Thursday, a federal appeals court upheld an injunction prohibiting the city of Los Angeles from seizing and destroying bulky objects left on public property by homeless persons, such as beds and carts.
The Los Angeles municipal law violates the 4th Amendment, which protects persons from unreasonable government seizure of private property, “even when that stuff is stored in public locations,” according to a 2-1 judgment by the United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“In the presence of their respective owners, city employees have discarded a crate that a person used to secure his pet dog at night, carts that a person used to transport his possessions, wooden pallets and a cushion on which a person slept, and bins that a person used to keep her clothing dry,” wrote 9th Circuit Judge Michelle T. Friedland, an Obama appointee.

Previous court judgments, Friedland wrote for the majority, have made it plain that the government cannot destroy unabandoned personal items left in parks, on sidewalks, or on roadways. She wrote, “The city is free to construct a lawful version” of the ordinance.

A Trump appointee, Judge Mark J. Bennett, dissented. Los Angeles, he claimed, had all but admitted that destroying the property without warning was unconstitutional. He believes that section of the ordinance should be removed, and that a district judge should decide whether the component that simply permits the city to confiscate property is constitutional.

He added, “The section of the ordinance that enables seizure of the property without notice may well pass constitutional scrutiny.”

Bennett said the homeless situation was having a toll on the public, citing written arguments from the League of California Cities, which backed Los Angeles in the lawsuit.

“Every day, city residents complain to the city about losing access to public spaces, risks to their safety, and a general decline in their quality of life,” he stated. Boats, tubs, jacuzzis, sofas, industrial waste, automotive components, bed frames, mattresses, and various household appliances are among the items regularly found on public property, he said.

Most things too large to fit inside a 60-gallon container, the most common size of residential garbage bins chosen by the city, were allowed to be removed under the Los Angeles ordinance considered by the court. However, city workers were not allowed to seize completely built tents, bicycles, walkers, crutches, or wheelchairs.

Within the city limits of Los Angeles, the most recent official count, conducted before the COVID-19 outbreak, revealed approximately 41,000 homeless persons.

The ruling comes after an appeal of a preliminary injunction issued in April by former President George W. Bush-appointed U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer. She stated that things that were blocking sidewalks or constituting a threat to public health and safety might still be seized by the city.

The lawsuit was filed by a collection of homeless people and advocacy groups after the Los Angeles City Council passed the ordinance by a 13-1 vote in 2016.

The city has the option of appealing the decision to a 9th Circuit panel with a larger panel.

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