Church v. City of Huntsville

Decision Date05 August 1994
Docket NumberNo. 93-6827,93-6827
Citation30 F.3d 1332
PartiesJoe CHURCH, Gregory Jacobs, Michael Dooly, and Frank Chisom, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. CITY OF HUNTSVILLE, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

E. Cutter Hughes, Jr., H. Knox McMillan, Bradley Arant, Rose & White, Huntsville, AL, for appellant.

Mitchell D. White, Huntsville, William J. Freeman, Birmingham, AL, for appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.

Before EDMONDSON and CARNES, Circuit Judges, and HENDERSON, Senior Circuit Judge.

CARNES, Circuit Judge:

This is a section 1983 class action lawsuit brought on behalf of the homeless residents of Huntsville, Alabama ("the City"). The plaintiffs allege that the City has deprived them of various constitutional rights as part of a concerted effort to drive them out of the City. The plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as compensatory damages for loss of property and emotional distress. After a hearing, the district court preliminarily enjoined the City, its agents, and its employees from:

(a) implementing a policy of isolating and/or removing members of the defined class from the City of Huntsville simply because of their status as homeless persons[;]

(b) harassing, intimidating, detaining or arresting members of the defined class, solely because of their status as homeless persons, for walking, talking, sleeping, or gathering in parks or other public places in the City of Huntsville;

(c) using the City of Huntsville's zoning or building code ordinances to shut down, close, or condemn a private shelter used or intended to be used by homeless citizens unless the continued occupancy of such shelter poses a clearly demonstrable, imminent danger to the health and/or safety of its intended or actual occupants or the general public[.]

Preliminary Injunction at 2 (emphasis in original). The City then filed this interlocutory appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1292(a)(1), seeking vacation of the preliminary injunction.

In part I of this opinion, we address the question of the plaintiffs' standing. We hold in subpart A that the plaintiffs have standing to seek to enjoin the actions described in the first two parts of the injunction. However, in subpart B we hold that they lack standing to seek to enjoin the City's use of its building code and zoning ordinance to close homeless shelters. In part II, we review the first two parts of the preliminary injunction on the merits, addressing in subpart A, the standard of review. In subpart B, we hold that the plaintiffs have failed to show a substantial likelihood that a City policy or custom resulted in a deprivation of their constitutional rights. In part III, we conclude by vacating the preliminary injunction and remanding the case to the district court.


" '[T]he question of standing is whether the litigant is entitled to have the court decide the merits of the dispute or of particular issues.' " Sims v. Florida Dep't of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles, 862 F.2d 1449, 1458 (11th Cir.) (en banc) (alteration in original) (quoting Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 2204, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975)), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 815, 110 S.Ct. 64, 107 L.Ed.2d 31 (1989). To establish standing, a plaintiff must have "suffered an injury-in-fact that would be corrected by [a] favorable decision in the lawsuit." Cheffer v. McGregor, 6 F.3d 705, 708 (11th Cir.1993). Absent a redressable injury, a judicial determination of a plaintiff's claim would amount to an advisory opinion prohibited by Article III's case and controversy requirement. Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, 454 U.S. 464, 471-72, 102 S.Ct. 752, 757-58, 70 L.Ed.2d 700 (1982). As the Supreme Court has explained:

[A]t an irreducible minimum, Art. III requires the party who invokes the court's authority to "show that he personally has suffered some actual or threatened injury as a result of the putatively illegal conduct of the defendant," and that the injury "fairly can be traced to the challenged action" and "is likely to be redressed by a favorable decision."

Id. at 472, 102 S.Ct. at 758 (citations omitted).

In addition to these constitutional requirements, the federal courts have also imposed three prudential limitations on their exercise of jurisdiction. These self-imposed restraints include:

[ (1) ] the principle that federal courts should avoid deciding generalized grievances that present abstract questions of wide public significance, [ (2) ] the requirement that the plaintiff's complaint be within the zone of interests protected by the statute or constitutional guarantee at issue, and [ (3) ] the requirement that a plaintiff ... assert his own legal rights and interests, not the rights of third parties.

Cone Corp. v. Florida Dep't of Transp., 921 F.2d 1190, 1203 n. 43 (11th Cir.) (internal quotations and citations omitted), cert. denied, 500 U.S. 942, 111 S.Ct. 2238, 114 L.Ed.2d 479 (1991).

"[S]tanding in no way depends on the merits of the plaintiff's contention that particular conduct is illegal...." Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 500, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 2206, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975). Nonetheless, standing requirements "are not mere pleading requirements but rather [are] an indispensable part of the plaintiff's case." Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, --- U.S. ----, ----, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 2136, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992). Therefore, each element of standing must be supported "with the manner and degree of evidence required at the successive stages of the litigation." Id. For example, when lack of standing is raised in a motion to dismiss, the issue is properly resolved by reference to the allegations of the complaint. Id. at ----, 112 S.Ct. at 2137. When standing is challenged in a motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff "must 'set forth' by affidavit or other evidence 'specific facts' " demonstrating standing, which are taken as true for summary judgment purposes. Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). Ultimately, to prevail, the standing "facts (if controverted) must be supported adequately by the evidence adduced at trial." Id. (internal quotation omitted). As a preliminary matter, then, we must determine the "degree of evidence" by which the plaintiffs must have established their standing at this point in the litigation.

The precise issue this case presents is not the degree of evidence by which plaintiffs ordinarily must establish standing in order to obtain a preliminary injunction but, instead, how much evidence a plaintiff must present to obtain a preliminary injunction when the defendant raises no standing issue. In the district court, the City did not question plaintiff's standing. Because standing is jurisdictional, the City's failure to raise the issue does not bar our consideration of it here. See FW/PBS, Inc. v. City of Dallas, 493 U.S. 215, 231, 110 S.Ct. 596, 607, 107 L.Ed.2d 603 (1990) ("[S]tanding 'is perhaps the most important of [the jurisdictional] doctrines.' " (second alteration in original) (quoting Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 750, 104 S.Ct. 3315, 3324, 82 L.Ed.2d 556 (1984)); Glickstein v. Sun Bank/Miami, N.A., 922 F.2d 666, 672 n. 12 (11th Cir.1991) (holding that jurisdictional issues may be raised for the first time on appeal). However, as a matter of fairness, the City's failure to question the plaintiffs' standing in the district court does affect the standard to which we will hold plaintiffs at this stage of the proceedings. It is not unfair to require every plaintiff to file a complaint which contains sufficient allegations of standing and to prove standing at trial. It might well be unfair, however, to impose a standing burden beyond the sufficiency of the allegations of the pleadings on a plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction, unless the defendant puts the plaintiff on notice that standing is contested. That is especially true in cases, such as this one, where the plaintiffs had only a few hours of hearing time to present their preliminary injunction case and were thereby forced to limit their evidence to what they reasonably understood to be the contested issues. In these particular circumstances, and for present purposes only, we think that the plaintiffs' standing should be judged on the sufficiency of the allegations of the complaint, with any preliminary hearing evidence favorable to the plaintiffs on standing treated as additional allegations of the complaint. Cf. Cone Corp. v. Florida Dep't of Transp., 921 F.2d 1190, 1206 n. 50 (11th Cir.) ("If, when it addresses the standing issue, the court ... considers facts not disclosed in the complaint, the court, in effect, treats the complaint as having been amended to conform to the evidence." (citations omitted)), cert. denied, 500 U.S. 942, 111 S.Ct. 2238, 114 L.Ed.2d 479 (1991). 1


The first two parts of the preliminary injunction bar the City from harassing or removing the plaintiffs from the City because of their homeless status. The City contends that the plaintiffs lack standing to seek such injunctive relief because they have not alleged or proven a sufficient "likelihood that they will suffer in the future from the actions sought to be enjoined." The City maintains that, under City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 103 S.Ct. 1660, 75 L.Ed.2d 675 (1983), to have standing the plaintiffs must allege, and ultimately prove, either that the police unlawfully arrest and detain every homeless person with whom they come into contact, or that the City has ordered or authorized its officers to do so. According to the City, the plaintiffs fail the Lyons test because they have neither alleged nor established "a real and immediate threat that any homeless person (much less all) would be illegally arrested in the future."


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