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Couple With Flowers Instead of Grass Faces Jail

Lawyer says their fight in Missouri could go all the way to the Supreme Court
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 3, 2018 12:39 PM CDT
Missouri Couple Face Jail for Planting Flowers, Not Grass, in Yard
Stock photo   (Getty Images / janniwet)

Janice Duffner is allergic to grass, so she and her husband, Carl, have no lawn—only flowers are planted in their Missouri yard, which also includes ponds and pathways. They bought their St. Peters home in 2002, and in 2008, the Board of Aldermen adopted a city ordinance requiring 50% of residents' yards to be made up of grass turf. Someone eventually filed a complaint about the Duffners' yard; the couple requested an exemption, but it was denied. In 2014, they were granted a variance, but were still required to plant grass on at least 5% of their property. After various court and administrative battles, in 2016, the Duffners filed a civil rights action in federal court, saying they faced up to $180,000 in penalties and 20 years in jail for their refusal to comply. Last week, a federal judge ruled in favor of the city, the Kansas City Star reports.

US District Judge John A. Ross ruled that the Duffners "have failed to identify a fundamental right that is restricted by the Turf Grass Ordinance," have failed to show that the penalties for noncompliance with the ordinance are excessive, and that the Supreme Court has held that "aesthetic considerations constitute a legitimate government purpose." He also said the complaint was too general and if a court accepted it, it could place "many, if not all" such zoning laws under scrutiny, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The couple's lawyer, who says "this is one of the most important property rights cases in the country right now," says the couple will appeal. He tells the Riverfront Times the case could go to the Supreme Court. "This is a couple with health problems facing gross penalties for what they've chosen not to plant on their personal property." (Read more lawn stories.)

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