The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Dunedin homeowner’s $30,000 fine for failing to cut his grass, placing the individual at risk of going into foreclosure.

Due to “high grass” in his yard, city officials began issuing James Ficken, 72, of Dunedin daily fines starting in May 2018. Ficken has successfully resisted these hundreds of dollars in fines. Ficken had previously argued in court that the fines were exorbitant, he filed a lawsuit against Dunedin in 2019 after the city started the foreclosure process on his property. Ficken and his attorneys claimed that in addition to the fines being high, they were also given out without warning.

But the court of appeals said on Thursday that fining Dunedin resident James Ficken about $30,000 for failing to mow his lawn did not go against the Eighth Amendment’s ban on imposing excessive fines.

A non-profit “public interest law company,” The Institute for Justice, issued a statement on Friday claiming that the punishments for Ficken’s offenses were excessive, “If a $30,000 fine for not mowing your lawn isn’t excessive, what is?” Andrew Ward, an attorney for Ficken said, “A city or state cannot pass an unconstitutional law, and argue that because it is the law, it’s constitutional.”

Ficken and his attorneys intend to take further legal action. This might entail appealing the matter to the United States. High Court. Lead attorney Ari Bargil stated that he was unsure of the strategy they would use just yet.

 “The government shouldn’t have the power, except in the most outrageous of circumstances, to wreak severe financial harm on citizens. (Ficken’s) case is a perfect example of what happens when the government abuses that power,” Bargil said, claiming the city uses its “residents as their personal ATMs.”

Ficken was a non-resident landlord with a history of breaking the law, according to the city of Dunedin, which has defended its sanctions. The records show that Ficken received 15 tickets for code infractions starting in 2007.

Additionally, the city has disputed Ficken’s assertions that he was taken by surprise. In the court documents, they claimed Ficken was told by code enforcement officers in 2015 that he was a “serial violation,” and that any more grass growth beyond 10 inches may cost him $500 per day.

According to Bargil, Ficken has resided in the house “whole time throughout the relevant period of the case,” and between 2015 and 2018, he received just one tall grass notice on average annually.

Ficken traveled to South Carolina for two weeks in July 2018 to handle his late mother’s business. The man who cut his grass at the time passed very suddenly. Ficken claimed that his lawnmower broke when he got back.

But after telling officials he did not have $30,000 to pay the fines, city officials gave him a 15-day deadline, threatening foreclosure if he did not settle the fines

“I’m astounded the court agreed the city could fine me $500 per day, without my knowledge, and then try to take my house — all to settle a bill for tall grass,” Ficken said. “The court’s ruling is outrageous. If this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. That just can’t be right, and I’m looking forward to continuing my fight.”

Watch it here: Youtube/ABC Action News

Sources: Wnd, Wtsp, Ij

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