Garcia v. City of Los Angeles, No. 20-55522 (9th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's preliminary injunction prohibiting the City of Los Angeles from discarding homeless individuals' "Bulky Items" that are stored in public areas, as authorized by a provision of its municipal code.
The panel agreed with the district court that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their claim that this provision, on its face, violates the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable seizures. The panel found Lavan v. City of Los Angeles, 693 F.3d 1022 (9th Cir. 2012), which upheld a preliminary injunction that prohibited Los Angeles from summarily destroying homeless individuals' publicly stored personal property, persuasive. The panel also concluded that the clauses authorizing the discarding of those items are not severable from the remainder of the provision. The panel emphasized that its holding imposes no new constraints on the City: its prior caselaw states clearly that the government may not summarily destroy the unabandoned personal property of homeless individuals that is kept in public areas. Finally, the panel concluded that the district court appropriately concluded that the remaining preliminary injunction factors tipped in plaintiffs' favor.
Court Description: Civil Rights. The panel affirmed the district court’s preliminary injunction prohibiting the City of Los Angeles from discarding homeless individuals’ “Bulky Items” that are stored in public areas, as authorized by a provision of its municipal code. As part of the City’s response to the homelessness crisis, section 56.11 of the City’s municipal code (the “ordinance”) strictly limits the storage of personal property in public areas. Under subsection (3)(i) of the ordinance (the “Bulky Items Provision”), the City, without notice, may remove and may discard any “Bulky Items” (generally any item too large to fit into a 60-gallon container) stored in a public area unless the Bulky Item is designed to be used as a shelter. * The Honorable David A. Ezra, United States District Judge for the District of Hawaii, sitting by designation. GARCIA V. CITY OF LOS ANGELES 3 The panel first agreed with the district court that Plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their claim that the Bulky Items Provision violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable seizures. The panel noted that in Lavan v. City of Los Angeles, 693 F.3d 1022 (9th Cir. 2012), this court upheld a preliminary injunction that prohibited Los Angeles from summarily destroying homeless individuals’ publicly stored personal property. The panel saw no meaningful distinction between the destruction of property enjoined in Lavan and the destruction of property enjoined here. The panel also concluded that the ordinance’s clauses authorizing the discarding of Bulky Items were not functionally separable and therefore were not severable from the remainder of the Bulky Items Provision. The City contended that because the ordinance included a severability clause, the district court erred in not severing the clauses that specifically authorized discarding Bulky Items (“the destruction clauses”). The City argued that, without the destruction clauses, the remainder of the Bulky Items Provision would be constitutional because the removal alone of Bulky Items would be lawful, and thus, the entire Bulky Items Provision should not have been enjoined. Applying California law, the panel explained that the presence of a severability clause is not conclusive, and that to be severable an invalid provision also must be grammatically, functionally, and volitionally separable from the remainder of the act. All three criteria must be satisfied. The panel held that the Bulky Items Provision was not functionally autonomous absent the destruction clauses because those clauses were necessary to the Provision’s operation and purpose. No paragraph of the ordinance provided that the City may “move” or “remove” property 4 GARCIA V. CITY OF LOS ANGELES from a public area without specifying what happened after that movement or removal. This structure indicated that “may remove,” as the phrase was used in the ordinance, described only the initial step of a multi-step enforcement process—making the larger phrase “may remove and may discard” a unitary whole. In addition to being functionally inseparable in light of the structure of the ordinance, the destruction clauses of the Bulky Items Provision also were functionally inseparable in practice. The panel noted that the City’s own statements made clear that discarding Bulky Items was “inextricably connected” to full enforcement of the Provision. Accordingly, the panel could not say that the Bulky Items Provision could stand on its own, unaided by the clauses authorizing destruction. Rather, the ability to destroy Bulky Items appeared to be an integral part of the Bulky Items Provision’s operation and purpose. This meant that the destruction clauses were not functionally separable. The panel held that the district court appropriately concluded that the remaining preliminary injunction factors, set forth in Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7 (2008), tipped in Plaintiffs’ favor. Dissenting, Judge Bennett stated that the Los Angeles City Council included a robust severability clause in the ordinance, and that the presence of such a clause established a presumption in favor of severance. Judge Bennett believed that the “may discard” provision of the ordinance should be severed, and that the constitutionality of the “may remove” provision should then be separately analyzed. Judge Bennett noted that the district court did not directly address the City’s severance argument. He therefore would remand the case to the district court to consider whether the “may remove” GARCIA V. CITY OF LOS ANGELES 5 provision is facially constitutional, and if it finds that it is, to reconsider whether the injunctive relief it ordered is appropriate.