by Brad Polumbo
There’s nothing worse than when you’re having a bad day and come back to your car to find a parking ticket on your windshield. Except, maybe, if that ticket was for $100,000, and you got it for parking on your own property.
That’s what happened to Sandy Martinez, a resident of Lantana, Florida. Teaming up with attorneys at the libertarian-leaning Institute for Justice (IJ), she is suing the town over a parking violation fine assigned to her that totaled more than $100,000. When combined with two other infractions, the total the city wants to take from Martinez comes to an astounding $165,000. Her lawsuit argues that such excessive fines over such minor offenses violate the Florida state constitution, which “forbids fines that are ‘excessive’ or ‘shock the conscience,’’ according to IJ’s Ari Bargil.
First round victory for Sandy Martinez, who is fighting her Florida town over a $100,000 parking violation. "It’s surreal that the town still refuses to admit that what it’s doing to me is abusive and unfair," says Sandy. Release here: https://t.co/LqWdv4Ipdj
— Institute for Justice (@IJ) July 12, 2021
Here’s the full backstory, as summarized by IJ:
The $165,000 that Sandy owes is a result of daily fines that the city assessed for property code violations. Most of this amount is a result of the way Sandy’s family parks their cars. Sandy, her two adult children and her sister all own cars so that they can get to their jobs. When all four cars are parked in the driveway, sometimes one of them has two tires on the lawn, a $250 per day violation. And those 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 town like she was supposed to, but an inspector never came out. Once Sandy discovered that the fines were still accruing over a year later, she immediately called and passed the inspection. But by then, the amount she owed was $101,750. This fine is on top of fines for two other similarly trivial violations—for cracks in the driveway and a fence that fell over during a storm.
Basically, the woman was fined enormous sums by the city because cars parked on her own property touched grass. Yes, seriously.
“It’s surreal that the town still refuses to admit that what it’s doing to me is abusive and unfair,” Martinez said. “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.”
Indeed, she should not. We should all root for Martinez’s cause and denounce the city’s attempt to financially ruin homeowners over small things they do on their own property. Thankfully, Martinez’s case is off to a good start, with the Institute for Justice achieving a victory and having the city’s attempt to dismiss the suit refused by a state court.
But, less fortunately, this story is just one incident in an alarming national trend. As an IJ report exposes, cities across the country levy punishing fines on their citizens to fill their coffers. The organization has fought similar injustices in parts of the country as diverse as California and Missouri.
This story and its context are important to remember beyond just local municipal policy debates. It’s yet another reminder that while big government advocates insist the state will uplift the struggling, the actual implementation of its power often hurts those who can least afford it.
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Brad Polumbo (@Brad_Polumbo) is a libertarian-conservative journalist and Policy Correspondent at the Foundation for Economic Education.