Retiree Jim Ficken of Dunedin, Florida, may lose his home because his front lawn grass grew too high while he was out of town.
Ficken was held liable for 57 $500 fines for the days his grass went uncut while he was out of town caring for his dead mother’s estate. “The grass did what grass does… and a code inspector saw it was more than the 10 inches the city allows and Jim was on the hook,” said Institute for Justice Attorney Andrew Ward, one of the men representing him.
A friend, who he had enlisted to care for his lawn, died suddenly while Ficken was away. Furthermore, Ficken claims he was not even made aware of the fines until they were well out of control. Now, on Tuesday, the state has moved to collect the money owed by foreclosing on his home. “I’m trying not to think about it but I’ll be booted out of this house and I’ll have to find another place to live,” Ficken said.
”We’re arguing in our lawsuit that limitless fines are, in fact, unconstitutional,” said another Institute for Justice attorney, Ari Bargil. “In February, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled the 8th Amendment prohibits cities from imposing excessive fines,” Ward said.
In response to Ficken’s suit against the local government, the city released this statement:
Mr. Ficken was cited for repeat violations on his rental property. On Tuesday, May 7, 2019 the City of Dunedin Code Enforcement Board authorized the City Attorney’s office to file foreclosure actions after resolution of the case could not be agreed upon with Mr. Ficken. The City Attorney’s office has not had an opportunity to review litigation filed by Mr. Ficken and as such has no comment at this juncture.
Ficken’s attorneys said that they will take the case all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. Whether Dunedin can make an elderly man homeless over the length of grass in his yard remains to be seen.