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Ordinance Allowing Destruction of Homeless Property Unconstitutional
Court Finds Multiple Violations of Due Process


January 05, 2011

(SitNews) - The Superior Court granted Summary Judgment late Tuesday in favor of Plaintiffs Dale Engle and homeless persons, finding that the Anchorage Municipality’s Ordinance allowing for destruction of the homeless persons' personal property is facially unconstitutional. The Anchorage Municipality passed an amended ordinance last June giving the homeless five days' notice to leave their camps. After five days, the property in the homeless camps was to be seized and destroyed.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska argued in this class action lawsuit that homeless people have the same rights as everyone else and the raids violated their property rights. Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner issued his ruling late Tuesday in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska.

The Associate Press reported that Engle, 53, said he has had his tent and sleeping bag confiscated in raids, as well as a dozen Army medals and ribbons that he kept in a suitcase. He got back six medals, but a purple heart and two silver clusters were incinerated, he said.

The plaintiffs in this class action lawsuit disputed the constitutionality of an Anchorage ordinance governing the abatement of illegal homeless camps (Anchorage Municipal Code 15.20.020). The Plaintiffs Dale Engle and homeless persons asserted violations of due process and equal protection and also raised the issue of unreasonable search and seizure. Their central contention in this class action lawsuit was that the Anchorage ordinance's notice period and the time it provided for appeal were insufficient, especially given the ordinance's failure to provide for the storage and recovery of property after it was seized.

Tom Stenson, attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska (ACLU), stated:  “We are extremely pleased that the Court found that the initial 5-day notice period is inadequate and violates due process.  The Court also held that the provision allowing for destruction of property 2-days after a decision by a municipal hearing officer - which effectively denies homeless persons access to the courts – is unconstitutional.  This opinion recognizes the principal that all persons – even the homeless – have important and fundamental property rights under the US and Alaska Constitutions.”

“We hope the Municipality [of Anchorage] will now accept our continuing offer to work jointly on an ordinance that meets the needs of Anchorage residents and also protects all our constitutional rights,” said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU.  “We believe this litigation could have been avoided. Since July 2009 we have advised the Municipality of the legal inadequacies with the various ordinances introduced.”  Mittman added, “We also want to recognize Mr. Dale Engle for stepping forward to protect the rights of all homeless persons, which – in the end – ensures the civil liberties of all persons.”

The Anchorage ordinance was passed in 2009 and was later revised, extending the notice from 12 hours to five days along with other changes, but the raids were only stopped by court order in the summer 2010.

Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska said the ACLU maintains 15 days' notice would be better. If the period is shorter, then the ordinance must provide for storage of personal belongings.

On the Web:

Click here to download the Opinion: Engle v Anchorage, 3AN-10-07047-CI


Source of News:

American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska
Web Site

Opinion: Engle v Anchorage


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