Garcia v. City of Los Angeles

A case about the right to be free from unlawful seizure and the right to due process.

Background & Case Documents

The Plaintiffs in this case are suing to stop the City of Los Angeles’ practice of seizing and in some cases immediately destroying homeless individuals’ belongings, often without notice, the ability to contest the taking of their items, or the opportunity to get their items back after they are taken. The City has excused its workers’ warrantless seizures by arbitrarily claiming property is, for example, too bulky.

Because the unhoused are least able to defend their rights in a complicated and expensive legal system, they make for easy targets for law enforcement. The City’s unnecessarily punitive policies toward the unhoused violate their Constitutional rights and undermine their efforts to build stability. 

Our plaintiffs have had essential belongings like medicines seized and destroyed without warning or legal justification. For example, one plaintiff used carts that he made to carry belongings and necessary items he purchased, like groceries. During one particular cleanup, he was moving one of his carts through an encampment when the police stopped him. A City employee told him his carts were bulky and he had to abandon them or risk going to jail. He used his carts to carry belongings and necessary items he purchased, like groceries. He also used his carts during multiple prior cleanups to move his possessions out of the cleanup area. He abandoned his carts, which were seized and destroyed, making it that much harder to perform daily tasks.

Another plaintiff who cleans houses for a living kept her cleaning supplies in her tent. She knew a sweep was coming and she moved her belongings out of the area the City said they were going to clean. Regardless, the City still threw away all of her supplies and she was forced to use her scant financial resources to replace everything the City seized in order to be able to carry out the basic duties of her job. On another day, the City seized and destroyed a box of letters from her partner who has subsequently passed away.

Even if you are able to live comfortably, how would you feel if city employees showed up at your house or apartment, demanding that they had the right to seize and discard all of your personal belongings inside your home, vastly setting back the progress you’ve made in your life? 

We cannot underscore how terrifying this practice should be to all residents of Los Angeles, regardless of their personal sentiments about the unhoused. The high cost of living in this city means that many individuals and families are one missed paycheck away from homelessness. All residents should be treated with respect and allowed to retain their personal possessions.

Media Inquiries:

Our partners on this case are Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA), McGuireWoods LLP, and Schonbrun Seplow Harris Hoffman & Zeldes, LLP.

2019.07.18 [001] Complaint
Our clients, six unhoused people, alleged that the City of Los Angeles seized and destroyed their personal property without notice, proper justification, or due process. These actions made it that much harder for them to find a path out of homelessness. We also represented an advocacy group that supports unhoused people in Los Angeles, who argued that the City’s actions made it more difficult for them to accomplish their goal of assisting unhoused communities in Los Angeles. 

Upon filing, the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, our litigation partner in this lawsuit, published a press release outlining the allegations in the complaint.

2020.02.15 [036] Order re Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss
The City filed two motions to dismiss, this and the one listed below, which were intended to get rid of the case before it could go to trial. Plaintiffs prevailed on both motions.

2020.02.15 [037] Order re Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction [21]
In their second motion to dismiss, the City argued that its seizure and destruction of our clients’ property was appropriate under the law. The Court disagreed.

2020.02.26 [038 through 038-10] Notice and Motion for Preliminary Injunction with Declarations
Our clients Ktown for All, Marquis Ashley, and Pete Dioscon filed a motion asking the court to bar the City from using the law that allowed it to seize and destroy their property.

2020.03.12 [043] Second Amended Complaint (1)
This is the current operative complaint.

2020.04.13 [058] Order Granting Pls Motion for PI [038]

The Court granted our clients’ motion for preliminary injunction, enjoining the clause about bulky items in LA Municipal Code 56.11. This meant that the City could not seize bulky items.. The City appealed this decision.

LAFLA also released a press release explaining the Court’s grant of our preliminary injunction.

2020.06.02 [065] Order Granting and Denying Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss

2020.08.17 [81] Plaintiff’s Motion for Order to Show Cause re: Civil Contempt
The City violated the injunction by continuing to post signs stating bulky items were prohibited and that they would seize them. Plaintiffs argued the City should be held in contempt and sanctioned for these violations.

LAFLA’S announcement that it filed the above motion.

2020.09.23 [106] Order Granting Plaintiffs’ Motion to Show Cause
Motion is granted in part and the ruling was that the Court found the City in contempt and to submit a declaration of compliance

Appellate Documents from the Appeal of the Preliminary Injunction

2020.06.26 [014] Appellant’s Opening Brief

2020.09.04 [027] Appellees’ Answering Brief

2020.10.02 [044] Brief of Amicus Curiae-National Homeless Law Center

2020.10.23 [048] Appellant’s Reply Brief

2021.09.02 [62] Opinion
The appeals court agreed with the lower court, upholding the preliminary injunction. LAFLA’s press release on the Ninth Circuit’s decision agreeing with the preliminary injunction.

Our Partners on This Case