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Appeals court sides with Dunedin after city fined man $30K for uncut grass

Institute for Justice plans to continue fight on behalf of homeowner James Ficken
Dunedin grass James Ficken.png
Posted at 12:17 PM, Jul 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-15 18:52:18-04

DUNEDIN, Fla. — The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the City of Dunedin on Thursday and ruled that fining a homeowner nearly $30,000 for not cutting his grass does not violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on levying excessive fines.

This affirmed a lower court ruling against Dunedin homeowner James Ficken.

In a statement, Institute for Justice Attorney Ari Bargil, who argued the case on behalf of Ficken, said the decision "will further embolden cities like Dunedin to impose crippling financial penalties against unsuspecting residents."

“The court’s ruling accepted the argument that the Constitution provides no protection from the imposition of limitless fines, assessed without notice, that can reach thousands, if not millions of dollars—even for trivial things like tall grass. It should be clear that fining a man into foreclosure for letting his grass get too long is disproportionate to that offense. We’re hopeful that the full appeals court will see this case for what it is and throw out this decision," Bargil said.

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The opinion of the court states, "Ficken's claims fail because state law provided him adequate process and the fine was not unconstitutionally excessive where state law permitted a fine of up to $500 a day for municipal-ordinance violations. We affirm the summary judgment in favor of the City."

Statement from the City of Dunedin:

"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.

While the City has prevailed in this Appeal case, in addition to the Federal District Court judgment in April 2021, the City continues to focus on code compliance policies and procedures which serve our residents with information and guidance on compliance.

The 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has issued a thorough and detailed judgment endorsing the City’s legal defenses to Mr. Ficken’s case. We appreciate the time the Court took to carefully review the record and legal arguments to reach its conclusions based on an informed understanding of the relevant facts and law. The 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed the City did not violate Mr. Ficken’s state or federal constitutional right to due process or impose unlawful fines. This is consistent with the legal findings before the City’s Code Enforcement Board and the Federal District Court ruling in April 2021."

Read the full opinion below: