DUNEDIN, Fla. — A Dunedin man who racked up $30,000 in fines for letting his grass get too long will have to pay, a federal judge said.
Jim Ficken's legal battle with the City of Dunedin has been going on for years now.
Ficken said he received his first fine in 2018 while he was out of town taking care of his late mother's estate and couldn't mow his grass.
At one point, code enforcement was fining Ficken $500 a day and threatened foreclosure.
"Sometimes it’s tough to go to sleep when you think about what can happen and what they’re trying to do," said Ficken. "It’s just ridiculous to be allowed to run up fines for such excessive amounts for something as minor as tall grass."
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Ari Bargil, Ficken's attorney, said that decision could embolden code enforcement officers across the country.
"Which is to quietly track fines before providing notice. Once local code enforcement boards have that power, I suspect that they're going to abuse it and a lot of people are going to be facing serious, excruciating high fines as a result," Bargil said.
Ficken's team plans to appeal the decision.
The City of Dunedin released a statement on the incident:
“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 case, the City has undertaken a thorough and careful analysis and review of its code enforcement policies and procedures. The current policies reflect modifications emphasizing compliance over enforcement.
The Federal District Court 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 Federal District Court’s order held 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, the only other body which has issued an order in this case.”