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 of whether this citywide homelessness crisis qualifies as interfering with their rights under Utah state law. It also presents the question of whether Salt Lake City can be ordered to clear encampments, forcibly relocate people who are unhoused, and enforce vague and overbroad laws punishing people for experiencing homelessness. We cannot arrest our way out of homelessness. Costly fines, fees, and arrests likely 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, filed an amicus brief defending the civil rights and liberties of people experiencing homelessness.

Pro Bono Law Firm(s)

ACLU of Utah, ACLU’s State Supreme Court Initiative, the national ACLU’s Trone Center for Justice & Equality, and the Salt Lake Legal Defender Association

Date filed

November 7, 2023


Judge Andrew Stone



Case number



The plaintiffs, wealthy business owners, brought a NIMBY (not in my backyard) suit against Salt Lake City, alleging that the city has created a climate that harms the public and private by allowing some of the most vulnerable Utahns, people experiencing homelessness,  to live and sleep in local streets, sidewalks, and parks. Plaintiffs seek extensive recourse from the court, asking it to enter declaratory judgment and preliminary and permanent injunctions compelling the city to forcibly remove people from their chosen communities without ensuring their access to safe and dignified housing. 

Summary of the Case

In September 2023, 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; obstructing 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 costly fines and potential for incarceration. The 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.  

 The case and injunction request remain pending before the district court.

About our Amicus Brief Defending the Rights of People Experiencing Homelessness

Our brief argues that the court should protect the rights of people who are experiencing homelessness. Excessive fines and punishment for the unavoidable consequences of being unhoused likely result in the city violating the federal and state constitutional rights of unhoused Utahns. 

An injunction would require dismantling campsites that unhoused people rely on to survive, forcibly relocating people experiencing homelessness to unknown and undetermined locations. It would also make the problem of homelessness worse, not better. Clearing encampments further erodes trust between our unhoused neighbors and the government, making it harder to end homelessness.  The time and tax-payer money used evicting encampments and spent forcing unsheltered individuals into the criminal legal system could be redirected toward services and housing that address the systemic issues of homelessness.