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Appeals court vacates order to house L.A. skid row homeless

A federal appeals court on Thursday unanimously overturned a judge’s decision that would have required Los Angeles to offer some form of shelter or housing to the entire homeless population of skid row by October.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, who issued the homelessness order in the spring, failed to follow basic legal requirements.

The panel said most of those who sued L.A. city and county had no legal right, or standing, to bring the case. Carter deployed “novel” legal theories that no one had argued, and ruled on claims that no one had alleged and on evidence that was not before him, the 9th Circuit said.

“The district court relied on hundreds of facts contained in various publications for their truth, and a significant number of facts directly [underpinning the order] are subject to reasonable dispute,” wrote Judge Jacqueline H. Nguyen, who was appointed by President Obama.

Carter’s order, which sent shock waves through local government, stemmed from a lawsuit brought by a coalition of downtown business owners, residents and some formerly homeless people. The city and county of Los Angeles appealed.

The 9th Circuit noted that Carter, appointed by President Clinton, based his decision on racial discrimination, though the lawsuit by the LA Alliance for Human Rights did not allege racism was a factor.

“Because plaintiffs brought no race-based claims, they did not allege or present any evidence that any individual plaintiff or LA Alliance member is Black — much less Black and unhoused, a parent, or at risk of losing their children,” Nguyen wrote.

Moreover, the 9th Circuit said, there was no evidence that any plaintiff was Black, risked family disruption or was confined to skid row.

“The district court undoubtedly has broad equitable power to remedy legal violations that have contributed to the complex problem of homelessness in Los Angeles,” wrote Nguyen, who was joined by two other Obama appointees. “But that power must be exercised consistent” with the law.

The panel did find that two plaintiffs who alleged disability discrimination had standing, but said Carter had not collected enough evidence to rule in their favor.


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