Dunedin, FL — Jim Ficken is not a criminal, has never been in jail, and is a model citizen in the town of Dunedin, Florida. However, the government dealt a massive blow to property rights by fining him $30,000 and threat of foreclosure — because his grass grew too tall while he looked after his mother’s estate.
The entire police state overreach began for Ficken in 2018 when he was out of town trying to take care of his late mother’s estate and his grass did what grass does, it grew. Knowing that it is unpleasing to neighbors to grow long grass, Ficken hired a friend to cut it for him while he was away, but that friend died and Ficken had no idea.
“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 Andrew Ward, one of Ficken’s attorneys from the Institute for Justice.
This month, a judge with the 11th Circuit Federal Court ruled against Ficken and demanded that Ficken pay $30,000 in fines for his tall grass. These exorbitant fines could cost Ficken his home.
“If a $30,000 fine for not mowing your lawn isn’t excessive, what is?” Ward said after the ruling. “A city or state cannot pass an unconstitutional law, and argue that because it is the law, it’s constitutional.”
Unfortunately for Ficken, the court disagrees and stated that Florida statutes allow the fines for repeated violations of local ordinances and municipal code.
Because Ficken’s grass was over 10 inches, the city government claimed Jim owed them money. Every day that Ficken kept his grass over the “legal limit,” the government would steal $500 from him. This went on for 57 days, and now, the government claims Ficken owes them nearly $30,000.
“I was out of town when code enforcement officials first noticed my grass was too tall,” Ficken said. “They came back almost every day to record the violation, but never notified me that I was on the hook for fines. By the time I found out, I owed them tens of thousands of dollars. Then, they refused to reduce the fines and voted to authorize the foreclosure of my home. I am disappointed that the court sided with Dunedin, but what happened to me is wrong, and I will continue to fight.”
“The city’s behavior toward Jim is outrageous,” said IJ Attorney Ari Bargil. “This ruling emboldens code enforcement departments across the state to impose crippling financial penalties and it empowers them to do so without first notifying a property owner that they are potentially going to be fined.”