District Court Judge Robert Gunning on Thursday, Oct. 16, set a trial date for the lawsuit challenging the City of Boulder’s camping ban. The trial is set for August 2024 and would mark a significant development in the case, which aims to halt enforcement of a city ordinance that allows police officers to ticket homeless people for sleeping outside.
The lawsuit, filed in May 2022 by the ACLU of Colorado, argues that the city’s camping ban, first adopted in 1980, is unconstitutional. Generally, the plaintiffs argue that ticketing people for sleeping outside when they have nowhere else to go is a form of cruel and unusual punishment. The city has sought to dismiss the case, in part by arguing the law is necessary to maintain access to public spaces.
This month’s trial date order came after a judge rejected parts of the city’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. That decision allowed the key claims in the case to move ahead. Gunning’s order mostly addresses procedural matters and does not make any judgments on the merits of the case. It establishes a range of timelines for the parties to gather statements from experts, request responses to written questions and submit copies of exhibits, among other tasks.
The parties could still reach a settlement before heading into a trial.
Even if the camping ban is upheld, it’s possible the city may have to alter how it enforces it. Current enforcement practices have allowed police to ticket people on days when the city’s largest shelter turned people away due to being full.
In February 2021, a Larimer County District Court judge dismissed a camping ticket because the person cited — the plaintiff in that case — did not have access to a local shelter at the time he received the ticket. In a separate case, in January 2022, Chico, California reached a settlement agreement in its camping ban lawsuit, which required the city to create a 24-hour emergency shelter and an outdoor space with “pallet shelters” equipped with a door, lock, electricity, heating and other amenities. This agreement generally allows the City of Chico to enforce its camping ban when “sufficient shelter beds” are available.