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Pottinger v. City of Miami

City's Treatment Of Homeless Violated Their Constitutional Rights

The district court ruled that the city's practice of arresting homeless individuals for harmless life sustaining activities that they are forced to perform in public is unconstitutional because the arrests constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment, restricted innocent conduct in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and burdened the fundamental right to travel in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The court also determined that the city's practice of seizing and destroying the property of homeless people without following its written procedures for found or seized property violated the class's Fourth Amendment rights.

On 16 November 1992, the district court entered its findings of fact and conclusions and order on the plaintiffs' request for declaratory and injunctive relief. The district court ordered the following: (1) the parties must meet and establish two safe zones where homeless people may remain without being arrested for harmless activities; (2) the city's police department may not arrest homeless people for performing harmless life sustaining acts in the two designated safe zones; (3) the city may not arrest homeless people for sleeping or eating in two primary locales until the parties agree upon the location of the new safe zones; (4) the city's police department may not destroy homeless persons' property; (5) the city must follow its written procedures governing the handling of personal property; and (6) the city must provide the public with five days notice before cleaning parks to enable homeless people to move their property to a nearby place the city may designate. The city appealed, challenging the basis and scope of the district court's injunction.

C. Clyde Atkins, judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit, heard the city's appeal on 2 December 1994. He noted that since the district court's 1992 order, the city and private entities had constructed homeless shelters to address the problems on which the district court had ruled. Certain provisions of the injunction were unclear. For example, it was unclear whether the city may arrest homeless people for engaging in lawful conduct when they are outside the safe zones, or whether the city must transport homeless people to the safe zones. Finally, the parties did not comply with the district court's order directing them to establish safe zones through negotiation. Atkins remanded (sent back) the case for the district court to address these concerns. He stated that the district court should issue appropriate clarifying language to guide the city in its determination of the scope of its duties under the injunction, and the district court should consider whether its injunction should be modified in light of recent events. The district court should address these concerns within a reasonable time.

On 7 April 1995, following an evidentiary hearing, the district court entered its findings on order of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The district court ultimately concluded that "though improvement in the overall situation is occurring via the Dade County Homeless Assistance Trust, the salient facts of this case have not changed substantially . . . " Thus, the district court determined that its original injunction should remain in effect with few modifications.

On 7 February 1996, following further briefing and oral argument, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals entered an interim order referring this matter to a mediator for settlement discussions. The parties engaged in extensive settlement negotiations and agreed to resolve each and every remaining issue in this case.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1995 to PresentPottinger v. City of Miami - Significance, City's Treatment Of Homeless Violated Their Constitutional Rights, Negotiations Lead To Settlement Agreement