The city of Dunedin, Florida, is trying to take Jim Ficken’s home because the grass was too long.
In May 2018, Jim left his home in Dunedin, a Tampa Bay suburb, to go to South Carolina to work on settling his late mother’s affairs. While Jim was out of town, the man he paid to cut his lawn unexpectedly died. Grass grows quickly in Florida, and the lawn soon grew longer than the ten inches allowed by the city.
The city immediately began fining Jim, having classified him as a “repeat offender” because of a warning he got back in 2015.
Jim finally found out he was being fined when a code inspector told him he would be getting “a big bill.” Jim then immediately cut the grass, figuring he would be fined no more than a few hundred dollars.
It was $500 per day—the same as the fine for driving 50 mph in a school zone.And the city assessed it every day for over 57 days. With fees loaded on top, the total fine was nearly $29,000.
That’s not the kind of money Jim has lying around. He begged the city to reconsider—to fine him something fair—but the city refused.
Come February, it was time to pay up. The city gave him 15 days to come up with $29,000, otherwise the city was going to get its money another way: by foreclosing on his home. And on May 7, that’s just what the city voted to do.
No one should lose their home because they let their grass grow too long. In February 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that governments cannot impose excessive fines. And losing your home because the grass was too long is excessive.
Jim is nearly 70 and on a limited income. Fining him $29,000 is outrageous. And it’s part of a wider trend: all over America, local governments are padding their budgets by assessing crippling fines on their own residents.
That’s why Jim and the Institute for Justice are fighting back in court. It’s not just about Jim’s home in Dunedin, Florida. It’s about ensuring—for everyone—that abusive governments can’t trump the Constitution.