J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · April 22, 2024

DUNEDIN, Fla.—After a prolonged legal battle spanning six years and two lawsuits, Florida resident Jim Ficken can finally rest easy tonight knowing that his home is not at risk of foreclosure. After Jim paid a significantly smaller penalty for allowing his grass to get overgrown, Jim and the city of Dunedin, Florida, have finally resolved their remaining disputes concerning the fines.

“While I am relieved that this nightmare is over, it’s a fight that should have never happened,” said Jim. “No one should have to endure two lawsuits and six years of uncertainty just to challenge such an unjust city ordinance. The emotional and financial toll it took to resolve is unimaginable. My only hope is that the city never does this to anyone again.”

The conflict began in 2018, when Dunedin fined Jim over $30,000 and threatened foreclosure for allowing his yard to get overgrown. With the help of the Institute for Justice, Jim filed a lawsuit against the city challenging the fines as unconstitutionally high. The public outcry from the case prompted Dunedin to pass an ordinance allowing residents to petition for reduced fines. However, when Jim was finally able to use this ordinance after the conclusion of his first legal battle, the city retaliated by stacking hefty attorneys’ fees on top of his then-reduced fine, effectively penalizing him for asserting his rights. This led to a second lawsuit to eliminate these unjust fees. Jim and the City recently agreed to settle that second lawsuit, ending the dispute for good.

“Jim persevered in the face of abusive code enforcement and administration for six long years,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Ari Bargil. “The Institute for Justice will continue to monitor Dunedin and other municipalities to ensure they do not trample on the constitutional rights of their citizens. It’s bad enough that local governments have become the tall-grass police, fining people tens of thousands of dollars for trivial code violations. But no one should be threatened with losing their home or face exorbitant fees for standing up for their rights.”

As fines and fee abuses persist across the country, often imposed for violation of trivial code violations, the Institute for Justice remains committed to its mission to protect and affirm the constitutional rights of Americans. By tackling such egregious municipal practices, IJ aims to prevent similar injustices and uphold the fundamental principles of property rights and due process.