Ninth Circuit Overturns Los Angeles' Prohibition on the Use of Vehicles as "Living Quarters"


Ninth Circuit Panel Rules Municipal Code Sections Unconstitutionally Vague

A three judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a section of the Los Angeles Municipal Code prohibiting the use of a vehicle “as living quarters either overnight, day-by-day, or otherwise” is unconstitutionally vague under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court determined that the language used provides insufficient notice of the conduct it penalizes and, therefore, promotes arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. Should this decision become final, all ordinances prohibiting sleeping or living in cars are not prohibited. Only those ordinances with language that fails to sufficiently identify prohibited behavior are unconstitutionally vague. Thus, a well drafted ordinance might survive judicial scrutiny.

In its decision in Desertrain v. City of Los Angeles, the Ninth Circuit panel specifically held section 85.02 to be unconstitutionally vague. In particular, the panel found fault with the fact that no definition of “living quarters” was included and there were no clear time limitations because of the use of the word “otherwise.” In addition, the court held that section 85.02 encourages arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. In this case, the court noted that the provisions appeared designed to allow selective enforcement against the homeless.

The case arose from a number of arrests in late 2010 by the Venice Homeless Task Force, a group of officers established by the Los Angeles Police Department to combat the problems associated with homelessness. Four homeless individuals sued the City alleging numerous constitutional and statutory violations, though they did not specifically allege vagueness. Subsequently, the homeless plaintiffs raised vagueness in a motion for summary judgment. That motion was denied by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in 2011, and the plaintiffs appealed.

The Ninth Circuit panel’s ruling may not be final. The decision may be appealed for an en banc hearing by the full Ninth Circuit and may possibly be appealed to the Supreme Court.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Best Best & Krieger LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:


Best Best & Krieger LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:

Sign up to create your digest using LinkedIn*

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.

Already signed up? Log in here

*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.