Martin v. Boise

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Martin v. Boise
CourtUnited States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Full case nameRobert Martin, Lawrence Lee Smith, Robert Anderson, Janet F. Bell, Pamela S. Hawkes, and Basil E. Humphrey v. City of Boise
DecidedSeptember 14, 2018 (2018-09-14)
Court membership
Judge(s) sittingMarsha S. Berzon, Paul J. Watford, and John B. Owens
Case opinions
Decision byMarsha S. Berzon
Concur/dissentJohn B. Owens

Martin v. Boise (full case name Robert Martin, Lawrence Lee Smith, Robert Anderson, Janet F. Bell, Pamela S. Hawkes, and Basil E. Humphrey v. City of Boise) was a 2018 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in response to a 2009 lawsuit by six homeless plaintiffs against the city of Boise, Idaho regarding the city's anti-camping ordinance.[1] The ruling held that cities cannot enforce anti-camping ordinances if they do not have enough homeless shelter beds available for their homeless population.[2][3] It did not necessarily mean a city cannot enforce any restrictions on camping on public property.

The decision was based on the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the case, leaving the precedent intact in the nine Western states under the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit (Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington).[3][4]


In 2009, after a local homeless shelter in Boise closed, six individuals were cited for violations of a city ordinance that makes it illegal to sleep on public property. One of those individuals, Robert Martin, along with the others, represented by Howard Belodoff, filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of an ordinance that punishes someone for sleeping outside when they have nowhere else to go.[1]

In 2021, the city settled the lawsuit by agreeing to spend $1.3 million for additional shelter spaces, $435,000 for the plaintiffs' attorneys fees, and agreed to amend ordinances on public sleeping as well as to train their police not to arrest individuals or issue citations when there is no shelter space available. Persons who are offered appropriate available shelter space, but refuse to go could still be cited, under the settlement.[5]

Current interpretation[edit]

The ruling leaves undecided the issue of whether it is legal to set limits on which public properties and during what hours camping or sleeping can be prohibited; the city of Sacramento, for example, allows sleeping on the City Hall grounds at night but not during the day, and this arrangement is not explicitly banned by the ruling.[6]


  1. ^ a b Dougherty, Conor (December 3, 2019). "How Far Can Cities Go to Police the Homeless? Boise Tests the Limit - A decade-old legal fight shapes a mayoral race and offers the Supreme Court a chance to weigh in". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Greenstone, Scott (September 6, 2019). "How a federal court ruling on Boise's homeless camping ban has rippled across the West". Idaho Statesman. Retrieved April 11, 2021.
  3. ^ a b Smith, Erika (December 16, 2019). "Supreme Court decision on homeless case is a blow to cities wanting more policing powers". Los Angeles Times. The high court declined to hear a landmark case on homelessness, letting stand a ruling that amounts to a broad curb on police powers in nine Western states, including California, to stop people from sleeping on public property if no other shelter is available.
  4. ^ Sisson, Patrick (April 5, 2019). "Homeless people gain 'de facto right' to sleep on sidewalks through federal court". Curbed. Retrieved April 11, 2021.
  5. ^ Harding, Hayley (February 8, 2021). "Boise will settle controversial homeless camping lawsuit, change city code". Los Angeles Times.
  6. ^ Clift, Theresa; Yoon-Hendricks, Alexandra (December 17, 2019). "U.S. Supreme Court won't hear Boise homeless ruling. Here's what it means for Sacramento". The Sacramento Bee. "Some would argue it's very broad and would be difficult for a local county or jurisdiction to balance the needs of homeless residents and other residents," county counsel Lisa Travis said. One way to achieve that balance might be to approve a new policy outlining the specific locations and times of day a homeless person could sleep on public property. The Boise decision does not explicitly ban making these kinds of restrictions. For example, the city of Sacramento allows homeless to sit or sleep on the ground outside City Hall at night, but not during the day.