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Federal Court Rules Against Florida Man Fined $30k Over Tall Grass

Have you ever looked out at the yard and just felt a little lazy?   The grass is tall, but it is hot, buggy, and it was a long week.  Maybe you went out of town and figured you would just cut it when you returned home.  You may want to rethink those plans now that a federal judge upheld $30,000 in fines against a Florida retiree who failed to cut his grass while attending to his mother while she was dying in SC.

As Carey Wedler reported for FEE, the defendant, Jim Ficken, was fined $500 a day over city code violations on his Dunedin home. Ficken’s first “violation” came when he left Florida to care for his dying mother in South Carolina. Following the death of his mother, Ficken arranged to have a man cut his lawn, but the man died while Ficken was in South Carolina attending to his mother’s estate.

“Ficken says he had no idea he was racking up the fines until he returned home from South Carolina,” Wedler wrote. “A city inspector walked past his house and notified him he’d soon be receiving a ‘big bill from the city,’ at which point he purchased a lawnmower and cut his grass.”

Ficken was represented by the Institute for Justice, who argued the fines imposed against Ficken were not valid because they were excessive and the city did not notify Ficken.

“The Constitution protects against fines that are excessive or ‘grossly disproportional’ to an offense,” IJ Attorney Andrew Ward said.

The district court rejected those claims. Officials at the Institute for Justice described the decision as “outrageous” and a blow to property rights.

“If $30,000 for tall grass in Florida is not excessive, it is hard to imagine what is. Yesterday’s ruling is wrong on the law, and we will be appealing,” Ward said. “This ruling emboldens code enforcement departments across the state to impose crippling financial penalties and it empowers them to do so without first notifying a property owner that they are potentially going to be fined.”

The official response from the City:

“The City of Dunedin is committed to protecting the health and safety of our citizens, and public and private investments in the community through fair and equitable policies consistent with the applicable law.”

The primary question is not that of to cut or not to cut, the question is simply how does this one yard being cut or not cut for two months equate to protecting the “health and safety” of it’s citizens?  Many HOA’s, Governments, Neighbors attempt to judge those that reside near them, however they do so from a singular perspective.  Currently, Goldfinch Winslow has a client with an HOA issue over an “unkempt lawn.”  No pictures are provided and no definition of unkempt is made, however from the singular perspective the HOA has decided to lien this private property, because their definition does not match his definition of “Kemp.”  Since when does how to trim your bushes, or cut your grass,  or even painting your house trump another’s private property rights.

Benjamin Franklin once said:  Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.  Now we give up privacy for popularity, we give up hard work for a hand out, and we give up our owner  property rights for dictation by law and regulation.  Simply stated, when is it proper to lose your home, when you chose to maintain your home, the way you see fit – unless it is proven to injure others.  If you are experiencing the over enforcement of law and regulation to impact of your property rights please call us at Goldfinch Winslow.

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