A federal appellate court has denied an appeal by the city of Los Angeles related to the seizure and destruction of property left on the streets by homeless people.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided 2-1 Sept. 5 to uphold a district court ruling that homeless persons are constitutionally protected from government seizure and destruction of their temporarily unattended personal property.
The appellate court upheld the finding that the city is barred from seizing unattended property unless it presents an immediate threat to public health or safety or is evidence of a crime. Cities are additionally barred from destroying such property without maintaining it in a secure location for at least 90 days, the court found.
The court decision states that in the event of a seizure, the city must leave a notice for the property owner, advising where the property has been kept and when it may be claimed.
The original complaint was filed by nine homeless individuals living in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles who alleged their Fourth and 14th Amendment rights were violated when their “unabandoned” personal possessions that were temporarily left on sidewalks were seized and destroyed last year.
Carol Sobel, the attorney for the plaintiffs, did not respond to requests for comment on the appellate court ruling.
In March last year, the city conducted other street cleanups of the area along Third Avenue in Venice, including one in which personal belongings of homeless sleeping at the site were seized. One activist claimed that only a handful of people were able to retrieve their belongings. The items included blankets, sleeping bags, art supplies and medication.
Sobel filed a claim for damages seeking a minimum of $4,000 for each person whose property was seized.
The city announced prior to a second Venice sweep that personal belongings would be taken unless the owner were present. City officials have argued that street cleanups are periodically conducted to help keep sidewalks cleared for safety issues.
A spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office said the city is currently reviewing the appellate court opinion and weighing its options including an appeal to the Ninth Circuit En Banc court or the U.S. Supreme Court. In the interim, the city will continue to uphold public health and safety by removing hazardous and contaminated items from the streets, while storing unattended items for the required number of days, the city attorney spokesman said.