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Local Bureaucrats Run Amok In Florida

After this man’s mother died, his hometown fined him $30,000 for this horrifying reason.

And now the small city of Dunedin, Florida is foreclosing on his home.

The city of Dunedin, Florida has a history of excessive fines for minor infractions. Their code enforcement division is one of the most aggressive in Florida.

But now, according to a recent lawsuit, Dunedin might have taken it too far, and gone after the wrong man.

According to the lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice, Dunedin resident Jim Ficken routinely spent weeks at a time away from his property to aid his dying mother in South Carolina.

In 2015, while Ficken was in South Carolina, Dunedin cited him for having grass that was too tall. According to a little-known section of the code’s enforcement policy, any subsequent violation of city code in the next five years would make Ficken a repeat offender.

In the summer of 2016, Mr. Ficken’s mother, Marinelle Ficken, passed away and Jim was left in charge of her estate. In July of 2018 Ficken had to go to South Carolina for a few weeks to manage her estate. During his time away from Dunedin, Russ Kellum, the man who mowed his lawn, died suddenly.

According to the lawsuit, when Ficken finally got back home to Dunedin and tried to mow his overgrown lawn himself, his mower broke.

And that’s where the Deep State bureaucrats took control.

Dunedin had been fining Ficken $500 a day, with absolutely no notice that it was doing so. The fines were so hefty because Ficken was a “repeat offender.”

It was nearly two months before Ficken even had a clue he already owed the city tens of thousands of dollars.

On August 20, a code enforcement official making his daily rounds saw Ficken and informed him he should expect “a big bill from the city,” the lawsuit said.

That day, Ficken, scared by the ominous tone of the enforcement officer, bought a new mower, though he could barely afford it.

The next day, Aug. 21, he mowed his admittedly overgrown lawn. Also that day he received a notice from the city that he was to appear at a hearing with the Code Enforcement Board on September 4th.

Ficken couldn’t make that hearing, as he was back in South Carolina to manage another issue with his mother’s estate. The board met without him and ruled his outrageous fine would stand. The board also approved another, separate fine, alleging that his grass had grown too long again starting Aug. 31.

According to the lawsuit, Mr. Ficken had no notice of this fine either.

Between the two fines, it turned out Mr. Ficken owed Dunedin a whopping $29,833.50 — on a house with barely a $125,000 market value.

Last week, according to the Tampa Bay Times the city of Dunedin’s Code Enforcement Board voted to foreclose on Mr. Ficken’s home because he failed to pay the nearly $30,000 in  fines he unknowingly had accrued.

Mr. Ficken freely admits he let his grass grow too long. He just doesn’t think he should lose his house over it.

So, the very same day the city moved to foreclose, Mr. Ficken filed a lawsuit against Dunedin and the members of its Code Enforcement Board.

He’s seeking $1 in damages, attorney’s fees and injunctions that would relieve him of the fines.

According to the Tampa Bay Times story:

“The suit also hopes to end Dunedin’s alleged practice of fining people ‘without considering a homeowner’s ability to pay.’

‘It’s an excessive fine, and everyone I’ve spoken to says it’s outrageous,’ Ficken, a retiree on a fixed income, said.

Dunedin mayor Julie Ward Bujalski defended the Code Enforcement Board. It’s a citizen-driven body that reacts to complaints from other Dunedin residents, Bujalski said. Ficken’s property was the subject of complaints from his neighbors, so the board took action. (Ficken’s attorneys said they haven’t seen any evidence neighbors complained.)”

Ficken is receiving legal help from the libertarian-leaning Institute for Justice.

This is the same organization that won a landmark case in 2019, Timbs v. Indiana. In this case, all nine justices of the Supreme Court of the United States agreed that states and local governments are not allowed to levy excessive fines.

So, after looking at Mr. Ficken’s case the Institute eagerly agreed to take it on pro bono. “Nobody should lose their house for having tall grass,” lead attorney Ari Bargil said.

Mr. Ficken’s case is not the only one; in recent years Dunedin has severely cracked down on all code violations, no matter how small. According to Ficken’s lawsuit, the city collected almost $1.3 million in code enforcement violations in 2018 — up from just $34,000 in 2007.

This trend is gaining steam around the country as the Deep State’s roots take hold.

We will be watching this case closely and will keep you informed.

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