Federal Court Rules Homeless Plaintiffs Have Valid Claims in Trespassing Suit
ST. PETERSBURG, FL – October 13, 2011 – (RealEstateRama) — A federal appellate court has ruled that a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a St. Petersburg trespassing ordinance may proceed.
The opinion, issued by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Catron et al. v. City of St. Petersburg, overturns a lower court’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Southern Legal Counsel (SLC), Florida Institutional Legal Services (FILS), and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (the Law Center). The Plaintiffs assert that the ordinance violates their rights to freedom of movement and procedural due process.
The 11th Circuit ruled that the trespassing ordinance violates the due process clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The ordinance authorizes the City to exclude people from public property by issuing a trespass warning. The lawsuit alleges that the City has used the ordinance to ban Plaintiffs and other homeless individuals from public parks, as well as surrounding sidewalks and bus stops. Under the ordinance, people are not given an avenue to challenge any warnings they receive without risking arrest.
”The appellate court’s decision is significant because it establishes that the City of St. Petersburg cannot exclude people from public places generally open to the public without providing due process,” said FILS attorney Peter Sleasman.
The ruling also validated Plaintiffs’ claim that the City is violating their freedom of movement by excluding them from sidewalks and bus stops surrounding city parks. This claim is based on Plaintiffs’ right to intrastate travel guaranteed by the Florida constitution.
“As homelessness increases across the country, many cities are responding by criminalizing homeless people’s presence in public spaces,” said Heather Johnson, civil rights attorney at the Law Center. ”St. Petersburg is a particularly egregious example of a larger trend. The 11th Circuit’s decision is not only a victory for the local homeless population, but also sets an important national precedent.”
The appellate court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs’ other claims, including a challenge to the constitutionality of the City’s ordinance prohibiting outdoor storage of personal property. If neither party appeals this decision, the case will be remanded to the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of Florida for further proceedings.
“We’re pleased with the appellate court’s decision about the trespassing ordinance because it affirms that all people have rights to access public space and freely move around on public sidewalks,” said SLC attorney Kirsten Clanton. “This is about basic fairness and human decency. We’re committed to ensuring homeless people in St. Petersburg enjoy the full range of rights available to everyone else.”
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