A Florida woman fighting her town’s officials over more than $100,000 in fines for parking in her own driveway has won the opening round in a court battle.
The Institute for Justice, a civil liberties public interest law firm representing Sandy Martinez, recently reported that a judge rejected the town of Lantana’s motion to dismiss the case.
The Free Press reported in February that Martinez, who works in a medical office treating cancer patients, had been assessed her $165,250 in penalties – nearly quadruple what Martinez makes in a year, and more than the value of her home.
Of that amount, $101,750 was for fines “for parking cars partially on her own grass,” IJ lawyers claimed.
Martinez shares her home with her mother, her older sister, and her three children, two of whom are adults. Four of them drive and that meant four cars. But because of the nature of her property, IJ noted, the situation “resulted in the outer wheels of each car extending slightly beyond the side edge of the driveway — partially onto a walkway on one side and onto a grassy area on the other.”
That ran afoul of a town ordinance that mandates “all off-street parking spaces, including driveways … shall be asphalt, concrete or block and shall be hard-surfaced and in good repair in compliance with town codes.”
The rest of the fines, as the Free Press reported, included $16,125 for having cracks in her driveway, atop another $47,375 related to a storm-damaged fence in Martinez’s yard that was fixed once she completed an insurance claim.
In a statement, Martinez said, “It’s surreal that the town still refuses to admit that what it’s doing to me is abusive and unfair. Like everyone else in my neighborhood, I work hard for what I’ve got. I shouldn’t have to fight in court to stop the city from fining me into poverty. But with [the court’s] decision, I’m glad that I am one step closer to making sure that doesn’t happen — to me or anyone else.”
Ari Bargil, a lawyer for the IJ, added, “Six-figure fines for parking on your own property are outrageous and [the court’s] decision will allow Sandy to make the case that these fines are unconstitutional.”
“While Florida’s Constitution forbids fines that are ‘excessive’ or ‘shock the conscience,’ places like Lantana routinely impose crippling fines against residents for minor code violations. It is time that Florida courts make it clear that cities cannot fine people into poverty for trivial violations.”
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