Florida Supreme Court Declines to Hear Challenge on Front-Yard Vegetable Garden Ban

Institute for Justice · February 9, 2018

Miami—Fans of homegrown vegetables will have to wait a little bit longer to grow their gardens after the Florida Supreme Court this morning refused to hear the appeal of homeowners Hermine Ricketts and Tom Carroll in their challenge to the Village of Miami Shores’ ban on front-yard vegetable gardens.

“The Florida Supreme Court’s refusal to hear Hermine and Tom’s appeal is unfortunate not only for them, but for all property owners,” explained Ari Bargil, an attorney with the Institute for Justice (IJ), which represents Hermine and Tom. “That government can fine citizens, that it can force them to destroy the very source of their sustenance, all for the harmless act of growing vegetables is something that should disturb every Floridian—indeed, every American.”

In March 2013, Miami Shores adopted a zoning ordinance banning front-yard vegetable gardens. Only vegetables are banned—trees, fruit and garden gnomes are fine. And despite its purported aesthetics-based justification, the ban applies to attractive and unattractive gardens alike. The ban immediately impacted Hermine and Tom, a married couple who had used their front-yard garden to grow vegetables and other plants for 17 years. Miami Shores told Hermine and Tom to destroy their garden or face fines of $50 per day. Unable to bear the cost of the fines, they dug up their garden.

Represented by IJ, Hermine and Tom challenged the ban in November 2013. The ban was upheld by both the trial court and Florida Third District Court of Appeal, which concluded that it is rational for government to ban “the cultivation of plants to be eaten as part of a meal, as opposed to the cultivation of plants for ornamental reasons.” Hermine and Tom then asked the Florida Supreme Court to review that decision, which it declined to do this morning.

“The message from the Florida courts is clear: The purpose of private property is to be decorative, not productive, and it’s government that gets to decide how you decorate it,” continued Bargil. “That is a perverse view of property rights.”

The fight, however, is far from over. Even as the Florida Supreme Court refused to hear Hermine and Tom’s appeal, the Florida Legislature is considering Senate Bill 1776, which would prohibit local governments from banning vegetable gardens. The bill, sponsored by Senator Rob Bradley, received its first committee hearing on February 6.

Hermine and Tom’s case has brought international attention to an issue that affects all Americans: our food. Michael Bindas, an IJ senior attorney and director of IJ’s National Food Freedom Initiative, said “the Institute for Justice will continue to fight until courts make clear that all Americans have the right to peacefully and productively use their property to feed themselves and their families.”