A Federal judge has given final approval to an historic $2.35 million class action settlement to hundreds of Fresno's homeless residents. United States District Judge Oliver W. Wanger had previously ordered that the City and the California Department of Transportation had violated homeless residents' constitutional rights in the practice of immediately seizing and destroying personal property. Throughout a two-year period City employees had conducted a number of raids in areas where homeless people live, indiscriminately seizing and immediately destroying clothing, medication, tents and blankets, as well as irreplaceable personal possessions such as family photographs.
The homeless plaintiffs in the lawsuit were represented by a team of attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California (ACLU-NC), the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR), and the law firm of Heller Ehrman LLP.
The case was filed in October 2006 on behalf of homeless people whose personal property, including essential medications, family photographs, and vital documents had been confiscated by police and city workers. The court issued a temporary restraining order against the City of Fresno two days later; in December 2006, the court issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the city from continuing to seize and destroy the property of homeless people.
During oral argument on April 25, 2008, Judge Oliver W. Wanger of U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of California declared that "the practice of announce, strike, seize [and] destroy immediately is against the law."
Terms of the Settlement
The settlement agreement contains a series of procedures created to ensure that the violations will not recur. The City of Fresno will require authorities to post written notice at least three days before clearing any personal property from an encampment area, and items of apparent value will be stored for 90 days. The Department of Transportation has also agreed to comply with the legal principles set forth in the court's preliminary injunction, throughout the state. The court will retain jurisdiction over the case for five years to ensure that the city and Caltrans comply with this agreement.
Damages awarded by the Court total $1,485,000, to be allocated as follows:
The City of Fresno will pay $1,000,000 into a Housing Allowance Account. Funds from the account will assist the approximately 225 class members in the lawsuit to meet costs related to housing including security deposits, first and last months rent, or monthly rental payments, or to purchase a vehicle or medical care. The money will be issued by the Settlement Administrator to landlords or other providers of basic goods or services.
The City will set aside $400,000 in cash to compensate a pool of individuals who suffered harm as a result of the unconstitutional seizure of property. Individuals will file claim forms describing the extent of their losses and the number of times they were subjected to the illegal sweeps. Disbursements from this portion of the settlement will range from $500 - $5000, and will be paid over time in currency or by check, or be deposited into plaintiff's individual bank accounts.
The Department of Transportation will pay $85,000 into this cash fund.
Funds from the settlement will help more than 350 class members in the lawsuit to meet housing-related costs, including security deposits, first and last month's rent, or monthly rental payments. The funds can also cover transportation and medical care. The money will be issued by the Settlement Administrator to landlords or other providers of goods or services. The City will set aside $400,000 in cash to compensate a pool of individuals who suffered harm as a result of the unconstitutional seizure of property.
How to file a claim:
Notice to Class Members
Aviso y forma en español
Aviso a personas en la ciudad de fresno
Forma de reclamo para el Ajuste Colectivo