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His House Is Worth $125K. Fine Over His Lawn Is $30K - Page 2

Jim Ficken's grass exceeded 10 inches in length over two months last summer
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted May 13, 2019 1:32 PM CDT
Updated May 18, 2019 3:15 PM CDT

  • Then came the fine: Ficken says the first he heard of the looming bill was on Aug. 20, when a code enforcement official on his daily rounds warned Ficken about a "big bill." Ficken immediately bought a new mower and cut the grass on Aug. 21. He was ordered to appear at a Sept. 4 hearing but was again out of state dealing with estate issues. The Code Enforcement Board met and upheld the fine—which grew larger during that last trip out of town. Fox 13 reports there were 57 days of violations.
  • Perspective: The total fine was $29,833.50. The county appraised his home at 1341 Lady Marion Lane at $125,541.
  • Ficken's standout quote: Per WFTS: "That's about five or six years of living expenses for me. So, they’re really trying to take five years of my life."
  • Dunedin's perspective: The city tells WTSP the violations actually date to 2007, and that Ficken was told in person by an inspector at the beginning of July that the fine was $500 a day. But Business Insider notes Ficken's suit says the fines came "without warning."
  • His suit: Ficken turned to the property-rights-focused Institute for Justice, which garnered press this February for winning a Supreme Court fight. They're taking on his case pro bono. The Washington Post reports the suit revolves around the Eighth Amendment’s ban on excessive fines and argues the fine is exactly that considering the offense and that the city did not take into account the retiree's ability to pay (the Post points out Ficken is on food stamps). He's seeking $1 in nominal damages, attorney's fees, and injunctions that would wipe away the fines.
  • Dunedin's fee collection: While Dunedin Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski told the Tampa Bay Times, "We are not interested in making money on the backs of our citizens," the paper notes the money the city has made from code violations has exploded from $34,000 in 2007 to $1.3 million last year.
(A single mom was thrown in jail over her lawn.)

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