Martinez et al v. The City of Fresno

Closed Case
Feb 16, 2023

Page Media

ACLU of Northern CA

On March 16, 2022, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California (“ACLU”) and the California Homeless Union, represented by the Law Offices of Anthony D. Prince, filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Fresno, urging the court to strike down a city ordinance that targets unhoused people, and puts unconstitutional restrictions on advocates, organizers, and reporters who try to draw attention to how the unhoused are treated during encampment sweeps. The lawsuit is brought on behalf of Dez Martinez, a longtime advocate who was once unhoused, Robert McCloskey, a reporter and activist, the Fresno Homeless Union, and Faith in the Valley.

In February 2022, city officials amended an existing ordinance to create a buffer zone around abatement activity, like encampment sweeps, taking place on public property. Anyone who enters the off-limits area “without express authorization” from the city can now be charged with a misdemeanor or fined up to $250.

The lawsuit seeks to stop the ordinance from being enforced and ultimately to get it voided altogether. This outrageously broad and vague ordinance is a direct assault not just on our plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, but on everyone’s rights.

On March 30, 2022, the ACLU and the California Homeless Union filed a motion for preliminary injunction to ask the Court to prohibit the City of Fresno from enforcing the ordinance and conducting nuisance abatements under the ordinance. In response, the City of Fresno moved to dismiss the lawsuit.

U.S. District Court Judge Drozd held a hearing on the preliminary injunction motion on Wednesday, May 11, 2022 and granted a preliminary injunction on May 24, 2022.

"Because the court has determined that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their claims that the ordinance as amended is facially invalid under the First Amendment and void for vagueness, the court will enjoin the amended ordinance in its entirety," Judge Drozd said in the order. According to the judge, "the amended ordinance and the arguments made in support of its application suggest that the intention of the ordinance is in reality simply to avoid public scrutiny."

The City of Fresno repealed the challenged amendments soon after the Court issued the Preliminary Injunction Order. The City of Fresno and the ACLU of Northern California are now in settlement talks to resolve the only remaining issue in the case: how much Fresno owes Plaintiffs in attorneys' fees.