DUNEDIN, Fla. – A federal court has upheld a Florida city’s decision to issue nearly $30,000 in code violation fines to a homeowner whose grass was overgrown.
Following a two-year legal battle, a judge from the Middle District of Florida ruled this week that Jim Ficken, 71, will have to pay the fines to the city of Dunedin, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
The city issued the fines in 2018 and Ficken sued in May 2019 after the city sought to foreclose on his home to collect them, according to court records. His lawyers argued Dunedin’s fines were excessive and given with no notice.
“The city’s behavior toward Jim is outrageous,” Ficken’s attorney, Ari Bargil, said in a statement. “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.”
City officials defended the fines, saying Ficken was a repeat violator in 2015, subjecting him to $500 per-day fines for future violations. This includes having grass that grows taller than 10 inches.
Ficken claimed he wasn’t properly notified about the fines. He said he had left home for two weeks in July 2018 to manage his mother's estate. That's when the first fines were issued by the city, the newspaper reported. During that time, Ficken said the man who mowed his law died.
When he returned home, he tried to mow his overgrown lawn and his mower broke, the lawsuit said.
Nearly two months passed before Ficken knew he owed fines. When the bill arrived it was totaled $29,833.50, the lawsuit said.
He was ordered to attend an August 2019 Code Enforcement Board hearing, but he missed it because he was in South Carolina to manage another issue with his mother’s estate, he said. The board voted on Sept. 4, 2019, that the fines would stand.
Ficken said he won't stop fighting his fines until he has exhausted every possible option.
“What happened to me is wrong and I will continue to fight,” he said.