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Friday, April 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Court Revives Suit by Sacramento Homeless

(CN) - A group of homeless Californians can continue fighting the ban on their camps in Sacramento, a state appeals court ruled.

The case stems from permission a private property owner gave in 2009 to let 22 homeless people, along with two others providing services to them, set up camp on his lot in Sacramento's light-industrial district.

Police informed the campers that they were violating a city ordinance prohibiting camping on public or private land without a permit.

When the campers failed to move, police issued them a pair of citations and removed their camping gear. After the campers brought in new camping gear, police arrested them.

Matthew Raymond Allen and the other 23 plaintiffs sued the city of Sacramento, challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance. The trial court ruled in the city's favor, citing a failure to state a cause of action.

On appeal, the plaintiffs discussed the plight of the homeless, stating that they lack job opportunities and mental health care, as well as shelter.

The plaintiffs told the court that Sacramento has at least 2,600 homeless residents, half of whom do not have shelter each night.

They claimed that the ordinance is selectively enforced against the homeless and violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment by "criminalizing the homeless condition."

The ordinance states that its purpose is to "maintain streets, parks and other public and private areas within the city in a clean, sanitary and accessible condition and to adequately protect the health, safety and public welfare of the community."

A three-judge panel with California's Third Appellate District affirmed for the city on all but one issue Friday, agreeing that "an injunction is not a cause of action."

With no allegation that city police threatened violence, or used intimidation or coercion, the campers also failed to state a claim for a Civil Code violation, the court found.

As for the Eighth Amendment claim, the court agreed with Sacramento that its law punishes "the acts of camping, occupying camp facilities and using camp paraphernalia, not homelessness."

The plaintiffs may, however, show that Sacramento enforces the law selectively, the court found

"We conclude the allegations are sufficient to state a cause of action for declaratory relief asserting an as-applied challenge based on equal protection," Justice Louis Mauro wrote for the panel.

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