A Boulder County District Court judge has denied the plaintiffs’ request in a lawsuit challenging the city’s camping ban. The request sought to stop the enforcement of the controversial ordinance before the lawsuit is resolved. The judge’s decision was, in part, influenced by the city’s rejection of key facts presented in the case.

The lawsuit, filed in May 2022 by the ACLU of Colorado, argues that the city’s camping ban, which allows officers to ticket homeless people for sleeping in public spaces, is unconstitutional.

In an April 21, 2023 motion, the plaintiffs argued that the city has admitted to enough “key factual allegations” to substantiate their claim that the ordinance violates the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment in the Colorado Constitution. They asked a judge to declare the city’s camping ban a violation of the state constitution and to halt its enforcement “when unhoused individuals cannot access indoor shelter.”

The city has denied many of the allegations in the case — including claims that it enforced the camping ban on “many nights” when the city’s main shelter was full and had to turn people away.  This detail is important because courts have ruled that punishing someone for sleeping in a public space when they have nowhere else to go violates their civil rights.

In his Sept. 14, 2023 order, Judge Robert Gunning said that the city continues to dispute key facts in the case, making a partial judgement “inappropriate.” Gunning also said that the plaintiffs’ request for a partial judgement seeks an order that would affect all unhoused people in Boulder, not just those involved in the lawsuit. He said that plaintiffs are not entitled to such an order.

The ruling means the high-profile case is all the more likely to go to a trial or result in a settlement. The lawsuit is the latest effort by civil rights lawyers to overturn the city’s camping ban, which was first adopted in 1980.

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