Seattle notches another win in court

Last Friday the City of Seattle got another win in court, as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to certify class-action status to a challenge to the city’s process of “sweeping” homeless encampments.

In a 2-1 ruling, the appeals court found that the ACLU, who had brought the case on behalf of homeless individuals in Seattle, had not met the criteria for class-action certification:

  1. the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable;
  2. there are questions of law or fact common to the class;
  3. the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and
  4. the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class;
  5. the suing parties and the proposed class members have suffered the same injury and have claims that depend on a common contention capable of class-wide resolution.

The ACLU argued that the proposed class members had their property seized and destroyed by the city without adequate notice and opportunity to reclaim their property.

However, both the district court and the appeals court found that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated that there was a practice by the City of Seattle that was common to all of the members of the proposed class; in fact, they noted that the plaintiffs themselves stated that “each sweep is different.”

While all three judges agreed that “as applied” to the evidence of specific incidents of sweeps presented by the plaintiffs there was no clear and consistent pattern of harm from a specific practice, one of the judges did argue in a dissenting opinion that the plaintiffs’ “facial” challenge to the city’s encampment cleanup policies raises common questions of constitutionality that could be the basis for a class-action certification.

With the class certification denied, the case returns to the district court and can proceed for the handful of individual plaintiffs named in the original complaint.