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Sunday, September 22, 2019

Florida man whose floating home was seized may return to Supreme Court

By John Severance | Apr 26, 2017

RIVIERA BEACH — On his website, Fane Lozman refers to himself as a corruption-fighting activist who saved 2,200 homes from seizure and his own home was destroyed, but he is better known for a case that went before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Four years ago, Lozman's case was heard by the Supreme Court as he sued Riviera Beach over his floating home, arguing this his floating home was a house and not a vessel, which could not be seized under city ordinance.

The high court sided with Lozman in a 7-2 decision.

"Not every floating structure is a 'vessel,'" Justice Stephen Breyer wrote. "To state the obvious, a wooden washtub, a plastic dishpan, a swimming platform on pontoons, a large fishing net, a door taken off its hinges, or Pinocchio (when inside the whale) are not 'vessels.'"

The decision affects an estimated 10,000 floating homes and other large buildings like casinos. They said they are not governed by federal maritime law, but they are governed by state law.

While happy with that 2013 verdict, Lozman is hoping for a return trip to the Supreme Court. He wants the justices to force the city to reimburse him for the home’s value after it was seized and is seeking to have attorney fees reimbursed.

The floating home in question does not have an engine or sail and no mechanism to steer because there is no rudder. The dimensions of the floating home were 60 feet by 12 feet.

The saga started in 2006 when his floating home was towed to a Riviera Beach marina.

The city was trying to sell the marina to a developer and Lozman filed suit, claiming Riviera Beach was trying to retaliate against Lozman for his opposition.

The city played hard ball as it tried to evict him. When that was not successful, the city took Lozman to federal court, where it claimed his floating home could be seized as a vessel.

The city won that round in 2010, and it destroyed the floating home. The case later went to the Supreme Court.

In his new suit, Lozman wants to be reimbursed $165,000 for the value of the home and another $200,000 for attorney fees.

The district court and the appeals court, once again, ruled in favor of the city. That sets the stage for a second possible trip to the Supreme Court.

"When the Supreme Court says something, it's not for the lower courts to blow off their mandate," Lozman told the Associated Press. "That's what is happening. The lower courts are punishing me for winning the case. I think I've got a wonderful shot for the Supreme Court to say, 'You know what, we're going to make things right.'"

In court papers, lawyers for Riviera Beach say they do not owe Lozman any money, and the home was properly seized and destroyed because of the law at that particular time.

"Lozman has failed to prove even a shred of bad faith on the city's part," city attorneys wrote in court papers.

The high court has yet to decide whether to hear the case. 

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