L.A. Really Wants to Take Stuff from Homeless People

By Robyn Hagan Cain on March 04, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Los Angeles is firmly committed to seizing stuff from the city’s homeless population.

After losing in both a district court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the city has filed a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court, asking the Court to overturn an injunction that stops the city from clearing unattended belongings off the streets, Reuters reports.

According to the Ninth Circuit, “The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments protect homeless persons from government seizure and summary destruction of their unabandoned, but momentarily unattended, personal property.” But there’s more than just property at stake: City Attorney Carmen Trutanich says that the city is trying to prevent a public health crisis, such as the tuberculosis outbreak that has affected an estimated 4,500 people on Skid Row.

On separate occasions between February 6, 2011 and March 17, 2011, the homeless plaintiffs in this case left their personal property on the sidewalks while they performed necessary tasks. They say that they had not abandoned their property, but city employees still seized and summarily destroyed their mobile shelters and carts containing medication, family memorabilia, electronic devices, birth certificates and other cherished items, Reuters reports.

The city, however, countered that its seizure and disposal of items is authorized pursuant to its enforcement of Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC) § 56.11, an ordinance that provides that "no person shall leave or permit to remain any merchandise, baggage or any article of personal property upon any parkway or sidewalk."

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an injunction against the city last September, barring officials from snatching homeless people's unattended personal possessions. (Our extremely technical legal blog-ish explanation reduced the appellate court's holding to the term "unconstitutionally not cool." We're pretty sure that phrase will take off any day now. Just needs a hashtag.)

The injunction doesn't seem that outrageous. It says the city can't confiscate and summarily destroy unabandoned property in Skid Row. So will the threat of a public health crisis make the matter worthy of Supreme Court review? We'll keep you posted.

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