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Barrani v. Salt Lake City

Location: Utah
Court Type: Utah Supreme Court
Status: Closed (Dismissed)
Last Update: November 16, 2023

What's at Stake

Hundreds if not thousands of Salt Lake City, Utah, residents have nowhere safe to stay and must live and sleep in public. This case—brought by a small group of residents and businesses—involves the question whether this citywide homelessness crisis constitutes a nuisance under Utah state law. It also presents the question whether Salt Lake City can be ordered to clear encampments, forcibly relocate people who are unhoused, and enforce vague and overbroad laws criminalizing homelessness where doing so will likely, if not certainly, violate unhoused people’s state and federal constitutional rights. The ACLU’s State Supreme Court Initiative and Trone Center for Justice and Equality, along with the ACLU of Utah and the Salt Lake Legal Defenders Association, represent amici curiae in the trial court who oppose the plaintiffs’ nuisance claims and their request for relief.

In September 2023, a group of nine residents and business owners sued in Utah state court against Salt Lake City, alleging that the city had created both public and private nuisances by allowing unhoused community members to live and sleep in local streets, sidewalks, and parks. The plaintiffs claim that the City created these nuisances by refusing to enforce a broad range of ordinances against unhoused individuals. Those ordinances include prohibitions on camping in parks or on public grounds; obstruction of sidewalks with encroachments or by standing, lying, or sitting for more than two minutes, obstruction of highways and streets, and public alcohol possession and use. Violations of these local ordinances carry potential misdemeanor or infraction penalties. Plaintiffs asked the trial court to enter a declaratory judgment and preliminary and permanent injunctions directing the City to abate “any and all nuisances caused by the unhoused” on any City property, not just the immediate areas where plaintiffs reside.

The ACLU, ACLU of Utah, The National Homelessness Law Center, Crossroads Urban Center, and the Salt Lake Legal Defenders Association (SLLDA) filed an amici curiae brief opposing the plaintiffs’ request for an emergency injunction. Attorneys for the ACLU’s State Supreme Court Initiative and Trone Center for Justice, along with attorneys from the ACLU of Utah and SLLDA, are counsel for amici.

The brief explains that the preliminary injunction should be denied because, among other flaws fatal to plaintiffs’ arguments, the injunction would be adverse to the public interest. It explains that the requested injunction would likely, if not certainly, result in violations of unhoused people’s rights to due process, to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and excessive fines, and to be free from cruel and unusual punishment or unnecessary rigor in the process of arrest or conviction. The brief also explains why plaintiffs’ requested relief would make the problem of homelessness worse, not better.

After oral argument, the case was dismissed with prejudice in favor of the ACLU. The City’s motion to dismiss was granted based on the public duty doctrine.

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