Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

9th Circuit: Constitution Protects Homeless Persons from Government Seizure and Destruction of Their Unattended but Unabandoned Personal Property

In February 2012, a divided panel of the Ninth Circuit affirmed a district court's grant of preliminary injunctive relief to nine homeless individuals living on the streets of the Skid Row district of Los Angeles who had sought protection, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, from the City's practice of summarily confiscating and destroying their temporarily unattended though retained possessions (including the shelters in which they lived, family photos, identification papers, and portable electronics).

On appeal, the City did not dispute that it had a policy and practice of seizing and destroying homeless persons' unattended property. Rather, it argued, on the one hand, that "the Fourth Amendment simply does not apply to the challenged seizures" and, on the other hand, that the belongings of homeless persons are uniquely exempt, as a matter of law, from the requirements of due process.

A majority of the Ninth Circuit rejected the City's arguments. As to the Fourth Amendment claim, it held that, by seizing and destroying homeless persons' unabandoned legal papers, shelters, and personal effects, "the City meaningfully interfered with [their] possessory interests in that property."

As to the Fourteenth Amendment claim, the Ninth Circuit majority held that Due Process was violated by the City's failure to provide "any meaningful opportunity to be heard before or after it seized and destroyed property belonging to Skid Row's homeless population."

The Court concluded that the City's positions were precluded by "even the most basic reading of our Constitution." See: Lavan v. City of Los Angeles, 693 F.3d 1022 (9th Cir. 2012).

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Lavan v. City of Los Angeles