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Federal court rules against Florida man fined $30k over tall grass

Jon Miltimore, FEE

Officials at the Institute for Justice described the decision as “outrageous” and a blow to property rights.

A federal judge on Monday upheld $30,000 in fines against a Florida retiree who failed to cut his grass while attending to a dying relative out of state.

As Carey Wedler reported for FEE in 2019, the defendant, Jim Ficken, was fined $500 a day over 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.”


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