On September 28, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Johnson v. Grants Pass, a class action matter addressing public camping. The court upheld the U.S. District Court’s prior ruling that persons experiencing homelessness are entitled to take necessary minimal measures to keep themselves warm and dry while sleeping outside. The Ninth Circuit opined that cities violate the Eighth Amendment if they punish a person for the mere act of sleeping outside, or for sleeping in their vehicles at night when there is no other place in the city for them to go.
As a result of this ruling, this decision expands the application of Martin v. Boise —the pivotal case impacting cities’ ability to regulate public camping. The court noted that the decision, in this case, is narrow and that “it is ‘unconstitutional to [punish] simply sleeping somewhere in public if one has nowhere else to do so.’” It goes on to note that class actions in these types of cases are permissible. This opinion, in most respects, affirmed what was already known from both the previous Martin and Johnson cases. However, it failed to provide much-anticipated clarification on several issues, such as what constitutes “necessary minimal measures” to keep warm and dry. The City has requested an En Banc at the Ninth Circuit Court, another step in the lawsuit process before it may be appealed to the United States Supreme Court.