After a three-year fight against the city’s homeless-camp removals, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington wants a federal judge to dismiss its lawsuit on behalf of two homeless people whose constitutional rights, they said, were violated when the city removed their camps and seized or destroyed their property.
One reason they asked for the dismissal: They can’t find their plaintiffs.
“As you might imagine, it’s difficult to keep in contact with them,” said Breanne Schuster, a staff lawyer for the ACLU of Washington.
It’s an ironic turn: The plaintiffs, Brandie Osborne and Lisa Hooper, said they’d lost personal possessions such as identification documents and mementos such as photographs — all seized and destroyed without adequate notice or a meaningful way to retrieve anything.
Schuster pointed out that many homeless people the ACLU had worked with in the past reported losing phones in a camp removal.
Reporting by The Seattle Times has found that when many homeless people lose important belongings — even medicine — in a camp removal, most homeless people didn’t get them back last year.
But this dismissal is a loss for legal advocates for homeless campers, who recently have been winning in court. Most recently, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that has effectively required cities to suspend camp removals unless they have a place for someone to go.
In that case, Martin v. Boise, which started over a decade ago, several of the plaintiffs received housing or died before any resolution was met — even Robert Martin, the named plaintiff, moved out of Boise.
But the Ninth Circuit sided with Seattle last year in this case when the ACLU appealed a lower court’s decision to deny certifying the case as a class action.
After the ACLU lost that appeal, lawyers for the city asked for a final judgment from Judge Ricardo Martinez in district court.
“We’ve been defending this case for several years, and the Court has made several rulings on the merits of the claims, in the City’s favor,” a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office wrote. “After the time and effort and resources that the parties and the court have put into the case, it’s fair to seek a final judgment.”
Schuster, the ACLU lawyer, said city officials want a ruling stating the homeless-camp-removal process is legal and that they won the case on the merits, when that’s not true.
“It’s pretending we had a trial but we didn’t have a trial,” Schuster said.
The ACLU is far from giving up; in October they filed a similar case on behalf of three homeless people seeking restitution from the city for belongings they said had been destroyed.