A proposed settlement to end a landmark lawsuit over how the city has been conducting homeless sweeps cleared a hurdle Monday, with a federal judge recommending preliminary approval of the deal.

The class-action lawsuit was originally filed in September by 15 plaintiffs — who are or have been homeless — alleging that the city’s maintenance crew routinely destroyed their belongings required for “mere existence” and “the care of their children” during the enforcement of the stored property and sidewalk nuisance ordinances.

The lawsuit led to a court-sanctioned agreement in January that prevents the city from removing any personal items and immediately destroying them during the sweeps.

Four months later, the city reached the settlement with the plaintiffs following lengthy mediation sessions.

ACLU denied TRO on city sweeps
Daniel Gluck, then the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, talks to reporters outside a federal courtroom after a hearing for a class-action lawsuit over how the city has been conducting homeless sweeps. Rui Kaneya/Civil Beat

Under the terms of the settlement, which incorporates the January agreement, the city would pay damages of $48,500 to the original 15 plaintiffs and six additional people who later joined the lawsuit.

The settlement also allows “all homeless or formerly homeless individuals whose property was seized and destroyed by City and County of Honolulu officials” to join the lawsuit as “class members” but sets aside no funds for their damages.

And the city would be responsible for notifying potential additional plaintiffs by taking the following steps at its expense:

  • Publishing a notice of the settlement in the pages of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser twice — once on a weekday and again on a Saturday or Sunday;
  • Posting the settlement notice on the city’s website along with the advance notices of planned sweeps;
  • Distributing 20 copies of the settlement notice to homeless service providers with a request to post them in “conspicuous places” for 30 days;
  • Posting the settlement notice for 30 days at any locations where any personal items are confiscated during the sweeps;
  • Providing the settlement notice to any individuals whose personal items are confiscated during the sweeps.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Chang endorsed the settlement Monday, concluding that it offers “real and tangible injunctive benefits” to the class members.

The settlement is “fair and adequate and well within the range of reasonableness required for preliminary approval,” Chang wrote.

Under the local rules for the U.S. District Court, Judge Helen Gillmor, who is overseeing the lawsuit, can decide whether to adopt Chang’s recommendation after 21 days — a period that allows any objections to be filed.

If Gillmor adopts the recommendation, any class member who wants to opt out or object to the settlement would have until Oct. 7 to notify the court in writing.

Three weeks later, the court would hold a fairness hearing to determine whether the settlement should be given final approval.

Once Gillmor grants the final approval, the plaintiffs’ attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and the law firm of Alston Hunt Floyd and Ing would be able to try to recover their fees and reimbursement of out-of-pocket costs.

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