Ninth Circuit Vacates Preliminary Injunction Ordering Los Angeles to House All Local Homeless, Faulting the Lower Court for “Impermissibly Resort[ing] to Independent Research and Extra-Record Evidence.”

In LA Alliance for Human Rights v. County of Los Angeles, No. 21-55395 (9th Cir. Sept. 23, 2021), the panel eviscerated a preliminary injunction won by a group of homeless advocates, holding that the district court made findings based on its own research, based on claims not raised by the plaintiffs.

“Nearly one in four unhoused people in this country live in Los Angeles County, and the crisis is worsening. In 2020, over 66,000 individuals were unhoused in the County, a 13% increase over the previous year. Perhaps nowhere is the emergency more apparent than on Los Angeles’s Skid Row, which encompasses more than 50 blocks of downtown.” The LA Alliance for Human Rights and a group of individual plaintiffs brought suit challenging the city and county’s role in this humanitarian crisis.

The plaintiffs’ complaint alleged “fourteen causes of action under state and federal law. In general, the Complaint alleges that County and City policies and inaction have created a dangerous environment in the Skid Row area and that the situation is only deteriorating.”

The claims included “that the County violated its mandatory duty to provide medically necessary care under California Welfare and Institutions Code section 17000 by failing to provide shelter to unhoused individuals; . . . that the County and City have facilitated public nuisance violations by failing to clear encampments; . . . that the City violated state and federal disability access laws by failing to clear sidewalks of encampments; and . . . that the County and City violated Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights by providing disparate services . . . .” Notably, the plaintiffs did not allege race discrimination of any kind in their complaint.

The district court conducted a year’s worth of settlement and status conferences, during which numerous elected officials and members of the public appeared in court. When the case did not settle, the judge ordered “inventories of County and City properties, financial disclosures, and briefing on the ‘outer limit of the Court’s structural equitable remedy power’ and ‘all equitable remedies available to the Court that would require the City . . . to take action to provide relief to the homeless community.’” The plaintiffs took the hint and moved for a preliminary injunction, “seeking a court order that required the County and City to offer shelter to all unhoused individuals in Skid Row, clear all Skid Row encampments, prohibit camping there, and more.”

The district court granted the preliminary relief. “The Order detailed, over sixty-three single-spaced pages, the County and City’s ‘historical constitutional violations’ stemming from structural racism,” starting from 1920s and 30s. It also criticized the current “City’s leaders for failing to effectively use their emergency powers and blasted corruption and misappropriation of taxpayer-allocated funds, missed deadlines, and the lack of a plan to solve the crisis.”

The judge found a likelihood of success on the merits on six claims and ordered “audits, investigations, and reports related to the County and City’s funds, properties, and contractual relationships with developers; the cessation of land and property transfers County- and City-wide; offers of shelter to all unhoused individuals on Skid Row within 180 days; the creation of a ‘plan that ensures the uplifting and enhancement of Skid Row without involuntarily displacing current residents;’ and the escrow of $1 billion to address homelessness.”

The Ninth Circuit vacates and remands. For the most part, the panel holds that for various reasons “Plaintiffs lack standing on all but one” of the claims on which the district court found a likelihood of success. Specifically, “Plaintiffs have not made a clear showing that any individual Plaintiff has standing for the race-based claims, including the substantive due process, equal protection, and state-created danger claims,” none of which the plaintiffs themselves alleged.

As to the one claim for which standing existed – the Americans with Disabilities Act – the panel holds that the district court abused its discretion by ranging far beyond the plaintiffs’ actual claims.

The panel observes that the lower court “granted relief based on claims that Plaintiffs did not allege, supported by novel legal theories that Plaintiffs did not argue, or against Defendants against whom the claim was not pled . . . . The mismatch between the six claims underlying the Order and Plaintiffs’ own claims explains a second overarching problem: the district court’s almost exclusive reliance on extra-record evidence . . . . The district court relied on hundreds of facts contained in various publications for their truth, and a significant number of facts directly underlying the injunctive relief are subject to reasonable dispute . . . . To the extent the district court premised the injunctive relief on improperly noticed facts necessary to confer standing, the district court abused its discretion.”

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