Appeals Court Overturns Judge’s Order Demanding Housing of Skid Row’s Homeless

In a big victory for the city and county, Judge David O. Carter’s landmark injunction on homelessness in L.A. was struck down today

A federal appellate court today overturned Judge David O. Carter’s system-shaking injunction on homelessness in Los Angeles, saying the group of downtown business owners and residents that filed a lawsuit against the city and county didn’t put forth evidence to support it.

“To fill the gap, the district court impermissibly resorted to independent research and extra-record evidence,” according to an opinion issued by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Elizabeth Mitchell, an attorney for the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights, the group that filed suit, told Los Angeles this morning that she’s happy with the decision because it is “strictly procedural in nature” and identified issues that are “easily cured.”

“We’re pretty excited that this puts us on a good path forward,” Mitchell said. “We intend to be right back in Judge Carter’s courtroom shortly with new motion for preliminary injunction.”

She added: “No one disputes the extreme urgency of these matters. With winter approaching, the scale of human misery and degradation will only increase. The city and county must act now.”

Louis “Skip” Miller, Los Angeles County’s outside counsel, said they’re “grateful the Ninth Circuit has ruled in our favor by vacating the district court’s sweeping injunction based on an abuse of judicial discretion.”

“Nevertheless, the County will continue with its massive efforts to address homeless as it has all along,” Miller said in an email. “We appreciate where Judge Carter is coming from and look forward to working with him to find a solution to this lawsuit.”

Issued in April, the injunction—described in the opinion as “sweeping”—detailed decades of structural racism and called for the city to offer housing to everyone on Skid Row by October, with staggered deadlines for women, men, and families. It also required spending audits and reports on finances and property, but Carter backed off on a requirement that the city place $1 billion in escrow and hold off on city land sales or transfers pending a city property analysis.

Both the city and county appealed the order, as did the Los Angeles Community Action Network. The Ninth stayed the order in May, then heard oral arguments July 7.

The opinion, written by Judge Jacqueline H. Nguyen and backed by Judges John B. Owens and Michelle T. Friedland, acknowledges the somewhat rosy circumstances that defined the case in the beginning. Attorneys on all sides abandoned traditional litigation tactics in favor of a hands-on, mediation-style approach from Carter, similar to his approach to a lawsuit over Orange County’s plans to close a riverbed encampment in 2018. The opinion says the judge “devoted an extraordinary amount of time and effort to understanding the parties’ positions and encouraging settlement.” It uses the same “extraordinary” description for Carter’s effort “toward understanding and encouraging the parties to implement solutions that would improve the lives of unhoused Angelenos.”

Carter issued the injunction “after extensive negotiations failed to produce a settlement.” The Ninth opinion says it “compellingly described the ill effects of the growing crisis: fires; rising deaths of unhoused Angelenos; unhoused Angelenos living near pollution-heavy roadways; unaddressed mental health disorders, particularly among unhoused Angelenos of color; and the spread of uncommon diseases due to lack of sanitation.”

But Carter’s analysis of the six claims underlying his order doesn’t fit the claims from the L.A. Alliance, which the opinion said “explains a second overarching problem: the district court’s almost exclusive reliance on extra-record evidence.”

“The district court relied on hundreds of facts contained in various publications for their truth, and a significant number of facts directly underlying the injunctive relief are subject to reasonable dispute,” according to the opinion. “For instance, experts extensively debate the history, purpose, and effect of the Containment Policy, which the district court found resulted in the ‘incarceration and homelessness’ of Black Angelenos.”

City Attorney and mayoral candidate Mike Feuer celebrated the “important victory,” but also praised Judge Carter’s “intense sense of urgency” in getting a grip on the homeless crisis.

“With today’s ruling, the ball is now squarely in the court of elected leaders,” he said in a statement. “That means deeper collaboration between the City and County, additional state and federal resources, fundamental improvements in engaging people experiencing homelessness, and more—driving to real solutions that reduce street homelessness and make our public spaces once again safe and accessible for everyone.”

Meghann M. Cuniff is a legal affairs journalist in Southern California. She’s on Twitter @meghanncuniff.

RELATED: Major Decisions Loom in a Landmark Lawsuit Over Homelessness in Los Angeles

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.