DUNEDIN, Fla. — A Dunedin homeowner who is facing $30,000 in fines and foreclosure for letting his grass get too long won round one in court.
A judge denied the city's motion to dismiss Jim Ficken's lawsuit.
Now, it argues the city's imposition of $500 daily fines for home maintenance issues.
"Nobody should incur tens of thousands of dollars in fines and risk losing their property because their grass grew too long," IJ Attorney Ari Bargil said. "The constitution expressly protects against fines that are excessive—and excessive is precisely what these penalties are. No one should have to pay $30,000 for tall grass. Yesterday’s decision takes us one step closer to vindicating Jim’s constitutional rights in court."
All this comes from a two-month period in the summer of 2019. Ficken was in South Carolina tending to his mother's estate.
While Ficken was out of town, he hired a man to cut his lawn. However, it was learned that the man passes away unexpectedly and the grass continued to grow.
Ficken eventually cut his grass when he returned home, but it was too late.
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He was fined $500 per day for months, starting when he was out of the state.
"Dunedin made regular visits to Jim’s property to check for noncompliance, but never once tried to tell Jim that he was under investigation or that he was racking up violations," IJ Attorney Andrew Ward said. "But the government is supposed to provide reasonable notice. The city’s treatment of Jim violated his right to due process, and we look forward to showing just that in court."
In total, Ficken owed the city $30,000 in fines. Since $30,000 is a large amount for him, and because he did not pay it, the city voted to foreclose on his home.
“When I found out how much Dunedin said I owed in fines, I was stunned,” said Jim. “They never even told me that I was going to be fined until I already owed them almost $30,000. I’m willing to pay a fine for violating the ordinance, but the punishment should fit the offense.”
The case is part of a broader effort by the Institute of Justice to put a stop to out of control municipal fines.