A judge’s decision today struck down civil injunctions used by the San Francisco Housing Authority against people the authority claimed were nuisances on their properties.
The housing authority, which operates more than 50 public housing developments for low-income people in the city, has had injunctions filed against Marcus Johnson and about 75 other people in recent years.
But San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer ruled in an eight-page decision today that the injunctions were unconstitutional because they were too broad and vague.
In the case of Johnson, he was arrested in contempt of court four times in seven months for violating the injunction issued against him in February 2010, according to the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, which represented him.
The injunction had been sought because the housing authority deemed Johnson “a private and public nuisance,” but did not allege that he had been convicted of any crime or had been a gang member.
At the time of each arrest, Johnson was visiting his two young children, who live with their mother in the Yerba Buena Plaza East development in the city’s Western Addition neighborhood.
Ulmer wrote, “At a time when too many fathers fail to be involved in their children’s lives, Johnson is apparently trying to fulfill this important role. But the SFHA injunction bars that involvement from occurring in the home.”
The judge ruled that because the injunction barred Johnson from being within 150 yards of any of the housing authority’s 53 properties, it affected his “ability to work, worship, eat, associate with family and friends–in short, to exist in San Francisco.”
Ulmer wrote that the injunction “is not narrowly tailored. Rather, it is several sizes too large.”
He pointed out that, unlike the city’s gang injunctions, the housing authority’s injunction was not tailored to allow certain activities like child-rearing, or tailored to fit hours when illicit activities are most likely to occur.
The injunction was also voided for its vagueness, Ulmer ruled.
For instance, it forbade Johnson from entering any public street, avenue, boulevard and other throughway running through or bordering any housing authority property.
Ulmer gave the example of Geary Boulevard, which runs across almost the entire width of San Francisco, and also runs through some of the housing authority’s exclusionary zones.
“So when Johnson is south of Geary, he apparently is barred from traveling across it to the north side … This is so even if no SFHA 150-yard exclusion zone is entered,” he wrote.
The judge dropped the injunctions against Johnson and six other people involved in the lawsuit, and added that “the vast majority of 65-plus other SFHA nuisance injunctions follow the same unconstitutional form, though they are not presently before this court.”
A spokesperson for the San Francisco Housing Authority was not immediately available this afternoon to comment on the judge’s decision.
Public Defender Jeff Adachi lauded Ulmer’s ruling as a victory for civil rights.
“Mr. Johnson should be free to visit his children without the threat of being arrested simply for being inside their home,” Adachi said in a statement.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News