Andrew Wimer
Andrew Wimer · April 10, 2024

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.— Yesterday, a Florida court ruled that sky-high fines for minor infractions issued to Lantana resident Sandy Martinez did not violate the state constitution’s prohibition on excessive fines. The Institute for Justice (IJ), a nonprofit law firm that protects property rights nationwide, will appeal that decision.

“Six-figure fines for parking on your own property are outrageous. The Florida Constitution’s Excessive Fines Clause was designed to stop precisely this sort of abuse—to prevent people from being fined into poverty for trivial violations,” said IJ Attorney Mike Greenberg. “The court’s opinion renders those bedrock protections a dead letter. We will appeal.”

The $165,000 that Sandy owes is a result of daily fines the city assessed for harmless property code violations. Most of this amount—more than $100,000—is a result of the way Sandy’s family parked their cars on their own property. Sandy, her two driving-age children, and her sister all own cars so they can get to their jobs or school. When all four cars were parked in the driveway, sometimes one of them would have two tires on the lawn. For that, the city fined Sandy $250 per day. And under the city’s policy, fines continue to accrue until the homeowner corrects the problem and calls the city to inspect the property to confirm it is in compliance.

After receiving the parking violation, Sandy called the city like she was supposed to, but an inspector never came out. Once Sandy discovered the fines were still accruing over a year later, she immediately contacted the city again and passed the inspection. But by then, the amount she owed was $101,750.

The city admitted the way Sandy’s family parked in their own driveway caused no harm. And, absurdly, it would be legal for Sandy to park on grass next to the roadway—adjacent to an intersection where there are regularly traffic accidents.   

But the city fined her anyway. And in addition to the parking violations, the city insists that Sandy also owes money for two other similarly trivial violations—cracks in the driveway and a fence that fell over during a storm. This heavy-handedness, for such trivial and harmless code violations, is financially crippling.

“Fines like these are not just abusive,” said IJ Senior Attorney Ari Bargil. “They are also unconstitutional. We look forward to continuing this battle on Sandy’s behalf to ensure that all Floridians can be free from astronomical fines like those imposed by Lantana in this case.”

IJ has challenged abusive fines and fees across the country—most notably in Timbs v. Indiana, where the Supreme Court unanimously agreed the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution applies to states and localities. IJ has also successfully protected homeowners in California and Missouri from abusive fines and fees practices and is currently challenging abusive fines in Alabama and Pasco County, Florida.