Los Angeles County’s recent announcement that it is striking a deal to end a federal lawsuit over homelessness was described as “abrupt“ by the Los Angeles Times, but the real surprise of the settlement may best be captured in the words of those most likely to oppose it. Noting U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter’s lack of action on the matter, lawyers for the Los Angeles Community Action Network recently told the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that nearly 2 1/2 years into the case, “the parties are nowhere near the final resolution.”
Then came that Sept. 12 settlement announcement.
L.A. County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Holly Mitchell and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti joined City Council President Nury Martinez and Councilmember Kevin De Leon to unveil an agreement that county lawyers had previously indicated would never happen. It involves the county earmarking an additional $236 million to fight homelessness for the next five years, which county lawyers had previously deemed unnecessary. It also involves the county increasing services for people with mental health issues; county lawyer Louis “Skip” Miller hailed the agreement as “a major breakthrough.”
But the judge who can make or break the deal threw a wrench in the county’s plans on Thursday, refusing a request by Miller and lawyers for the plaintiff’s group, L.A. Alliance for Human Rights, to put the case on hold for 60 days as they prepare the final settlement papers.
“Without knowing something about the terms of the settlement—none of which are before the court—the court cannot adequately determine whether a stay would advance the orderly course of justice, such that it outweighs any possible damage resulting from a stay,” Carter wrote.
The order doesn’t mean Carter won’t approve the settlement. But it signifies at least a touch of sway from a judge who previously approved the city’s settlement with L.A. Alliance with ease. Plus, it puts pressure on the county and L.A. Alliance to come up with specifics sooner than later.
As stated in a press conference, the county has agreed with the city to earmark the additional $236 million through June 2027, which will pay for services such as medical and mental health care and drug addiction treatment for those who will occupy the approximately 10,200 permeant units and 3,100 interim housing beds the city has promised through its separate settlement.
Carter approved the city’s settlement in June with little questioning, writing in his order, “The parties have been aggressively litigating this case for over two years.”
But lawyers for the Los Angeles Community Action Network have a different take, writing in a brief to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last month that despite their and the county’s “expressed intention to litigate this case, it has not advanced, even 18 months after the parties ended the formal stay of the litigation entered into at the outset of the case.”
During that litigation stay, Carter took an aggressive stance against a bureaucracy he repeatedly said is so entrenched in Los Angeles that millions of dollars was being regularly wasted, including on housing that was too expensive for the number of people it serves. He repeatedly said a lack of money was not the issue, but the judge also appeared to lose interest in the case after the 9th Circuit overturned a high-profile injunction he issued in April 2021 that, among other system-shaking orders, directed the city to offer housing to everyone on Skid Row within six months and ordered $1 billion in city funds to be placed in the court’s control.
L.A. Alliance lawyers had said they planned to seek another, similar injunction, after the 9th Circuit order, but in January, Carter ordered the parties into mediation instead of ruling on the county’s request to dismiss the case.
Representing LACAN, Shayla Myers, senior attorney for the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, described in her 9th Circuit brief how Carter has yet to rule on the dismissal motions and said he’s also “yet to set a scheduling conference, issue a scheduling order, or allow the parties to commence discovery, even as to the limited subject of Plaintiffs’ standing to bring this case.”
“As a result, 27 months after the case was filed, the parties are nowhere near the final resolution necessary for Intervenors to otherwise appeal this order,” Myers wrote.
That changes with the county’s settlement announcement, but it also creates a legal opportunity for Myers and LACAN, which has long criticized the lawsuit as a front to justify the enforcement of broad anti-camping ordinances that will essentially sweep public areas of unhoused people. Right now, the group is appealing the city’s settlement with L.A. Alliance, but the 9th Circuit has questioned whether it has proper jurisdiction to consider the appeal because the entire case is not yet resolved.
Myers’ brief said the court has jurisdiction; city attorneys filed their own brief saying it, in fact, does not. The court has yet to decide whether the appeal can proceed, but the county’s settlement could lead to LACAN withdrawing its appeal to file a separate challenge to both settlements.
Myers did not respond to an email seeking from LAMag.
L.A. Alliance’s Elizabeth Mitchell says she expects to file the final settlement proposal in a similar fashion to the city’s settlement, which took about 60 days.
“If it were up to me, it would be filed tomorrow,” Mitchell told LAMag this week.
Meghann M. Cuniff is a legal affairs journalist in Southern California. She’s on Twitter @meghanncuniff.