The City and County of Denver has reached a proposed settlement with the attorneys representing Denver’s homeless population in a class-action lawsuit over the alleged violation of due process rights in enforcing the city’s camping ban implemented by Mayor Michael Hancock.
“Addressing the impacts of homelessness in our community is one of the most challenging issues that we face as a city,” said city attorney Kristin Bronson in a news conference. “And the question that we at the city ask ourselves continually is, ‘Are we doing enough for those who have the least in our community?’”
Some terms laid out in the settlement include commitments to advisory group meetings between city officials, homeless people and their representatives to share feedback on city programs. The city has also agreed to provide advance notice of regular cleanups when possible, as well as resources such as public restrooms and storage lockers.
Lyall et al v. Denver had a trial scheduled to begin March 29. The lawsuit has alleged a handful of sweeps of homeless encampments around Denver conducted by law enforcement beginning late in 2015, which were conducted to enforce the Denver unauthorized camping ban, violated the plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights because their property was unlawfully seized and destroyed. The original complaint also alleged the sweeps violated the individuals’ 14th Amendment rights because law enforcement did not provide sufficient, or any, notice prior to seizing the property, and the plaintiffs were not granted due process to contest the seizures or given proper opportunities to retrieve their possessions.
Bronson said the Denver City Council still needs to approve some terms of the settlement.
Attorney Jason Flores-Williams and Killmer Lane & Newman’s Andy McNulty have represented Denver’s homeless population in the case. McNulty and Bronson told Law Week the settlement includes terms not possible had the case gone all the way through trial, such as resources the city has agreed to provide.
“We’re talking about public restrooms, we’re talking about trash cans, we’re talking about needle disposal boxes, a mobile health unit. None of that could have been achieved through trial,” McNulty said. “Through trial what we could’ve gotten is an order saying that the way [the city is] conducting these homeless sweeps is unconstitutional.” He explained the class of plaintiffs received a 23(b)(2) certification, meaning the class would have received only injunctive relief rather than monetary damages. According to a copy of the settlement, the individually named plaintiffs will receive $30,000 in damages.
Bronson said a hearing will take place to make sure the settlement terms are fair to the whole class of plaintiffs. Denver has also agreed to pay attorney fees, and Judge William Martinez will decide the reasonable amount.
“A lot of cities have experienced similar challenges that Denver has in, how do you balance the need to keep public spaces clean while dealing with personal belongings that are found along the way?” Bronson said. “What we’ve done here, I think, with this settlement is by opening a dialogue under the auspices of settling a lawsuit, we were able to identify adjustments or improvements to what we were already doing could have a really big impact.”