Burlington Settles with ACLU in Lawsuit Over Rights of Homeless Residents

City agrees to policy changes to prevent confiscation and destruction of property without due process


December 4, 2019

BURLINGTON — ACLU of Vermont client Brian Croteau Sr. has reached a settlement with the City of Burlington in his federal lawsuit challenging the City’s policy of confiscating and destroying the property of homeless residents in violation of their constitutional rights.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Burlington agreed to policy changes that require it to advise individuals of the specific reason their sheltering site is being considered for removal, provide an opportunity to object to that removal, give adequate notice before taking property from sheltering sites, and store that property for at least 30 days. In addition, Burlington agreed to pay Mr. Croteau $25,000 and mediation costs to resolve the case.

ACLU of Vermont Staff Attorney Lia Ernst: “With this settlement, some of Burlington’s most marginalized residents are protected from having their personal property seized and destroyed without due process—including life-sustaining possessions like tents, sleeping bags, medications, food, and clothing. The ACLU remains committed to ending the criminalization of poverty and homelessness in Vermont, and this agreement is a positive step toward that goal.”

Croteau v. City of Burlington was filed in October 2017 by the ACLU of Vermont and cooperating counsel Jared Carter and Gary Sarachan, following reports that Burlington was evicting residents from local sheltering sites and seizing and destroying their personal property, despite city officials’ knowledge that shelters were full.

ACLU cooperating counsel Jared Carter of Vermont Law School: “Punishing individuals for sleeping in public when they have nowhere else to go violates the U.S. Constitution and goes against Burlington’s values that all residents be treated with respect and compassion. It is our hope that the City of Burlington will better live up to those values by ensuring that all residents are treated with dignity, no matter who they are or what their living circumstances might be.”

This is the third ACLU lawsuit the City of Burlington has settled in just over two years relating to its unlawful treatment of indigent and low-income residents. Those cases have resulted in numerous policy reforms and more than $70,000 in payments to plaintiffs and associated costs.

In Montagno v. City of Burlington, the ACLU challenged the City’s role in evicting tenants who called for police assistance “too frequently.” The City settled that case in early 2018, paying compensation and agreeing to policy changes that protect the rights of vulnerable tenants. In Ploof v. City of Burlington, the ACLU challenged a Burlington “No Trespass” ordinance that barred individuals from visiting City Hall Park if they had committed prior offenses there. The City settled that case earlier this year, agreeing to policy changes that guarantee an individual’s rights to challenge the no-trespass order and to exercise constitutionally protected activities on City properties.

ACLU cooperating counsel Gary Sarachan of Capes Sokol: “This agreement would not have been possible without the courageous plaintiffs who took a stand to challenge an unjust policy. We are grateful to Brian Croteau Sr. in particular for seeing this case through and for defending the constitutional rights of all Burlington residents.”

A copy of the Settlement is here.

A copy of the proposed policy change is here.