Very few private citizens get to have their case heard by the United States Supreme Court, but one in particular has been there twice. In 2005 the United States Supreme Court held in Kelo v. City of New London Conn., that eminent domain can be used to take property from one private owner and given to another private entity so long as the transfer promotes economic development. The Supreme Court also said that states could restrict the rule if they wanted. Shortly after this ruling on May 11, 2006, then Governor, Jeb Bush, did just that and signed a Florida state law restricting that type of eminent domain use in the state. One day prior to taking effect, however, the Riviera Beach city council had a closed-door meeting where it voted to move forward with a plan to redevelop approximately 800 acres of the city. This plan was set to condemn and take properties from private owners, who were unwilling to sell, and transfer to a private development company. The company would then construct private buildings and a yacht club, on the Riviera Beach marina.
This is where the unwavering Fane Lozman first appears. Mr. Lozman moved his floating home to the Florida marina in March 2006. He spoke out against the plan at public city council meetings and filed a complaint at some point after May 10,2006, alleging that the closed-door city council meeting violated Florida’s sunshine law. This case was ultimately dismissed, and the redevelopment plan was scrapped amid several other lawsuits and public outcry. However, this seems to be where the animosity between the Riviera Beach city council and Fane Lozman began and would ultimately lead to the Supreme Court twice.
In August 2006, three months after that first lawsuit, the city sent Lozman an eviction notice. The eviction notice stated he failed to muzzle his 10-pound chihuahua and he used unlicensed repair persons. At the state eviction hearing in March 2007, Lozman argued as his defense, the city was improperly retaliating against him for his protected speech against the marina redevelopment project. After a three-day trial, the jury agreed and ruled in favor of Lozman. A few months later, in June 2007, the city council unanimously voted to institute new dockage rules for the marina. The rules included new insurance and registration requirements and required crafts to be operational and capable of vacating in case of an emergency. Lozman’s floating home would violate all of the new rules.
Although Lozman claims not to have received most of the notices, the city asserts it sent notifications of the new rules starting in July 2007 through March 2009. The notices stated if Lozman did not sign the new dockage agreement, he would be in violation and his permission to be in the marina would be revoked. The final notice gave a deadline of April 1, 2009. On April 20, 2009, after Lozman failed to agree to the new dockage rules, the city filed a claim in admiralty court in rem against Lozman’s floating home for trespass and past due dockage fees. That same day, a United States Marshal arrested the craft and had it towed to Miami. Lozman argued that his floating home was not a vessel for the purpose of federal admiralty jurisdiction. In November 2010, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida found for the city of Riviera Beach and awarded $3,053.26. The District Court in January 2010, entered final judgement against the vessel and ordered marshals to release and auction the floating home to pay the award. The City of Riviera Beach then purchased the floating home at auction and immediately destroyed it, at a cost to the city of $6,900.
Lozman appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court. Lozman v. Cty of Riviera Beach, became a landmark case in admiralty law and narrowed the definition of a vessel.
Lozman took a rare second bite at the Supreme Court apple with another claim stemming from his opposition to the city’s redevelopment plan. On November 15, 2006 during a city council meeting, Lozman was arrested when he failed to yield the podium after less than a minute of his speech, as he attempted to speak about public corruption. After transcripts of a closed-door city council meeting revealed some members were speculating about intimidating Lozman, he filed suit for retaliatory arrest based on his removal from and arrest at the November 2006 city council meeting. Lozman lost in the United States district court for the Southern District of Florida and in the 11th circuit court of appeals but prevailed again at the United States Supreme Court. In Lozman v. Cty of Riviera Beach, the majority opinion stated that probable cause for an arrest doesn’t automatically bar a plaintiffs first amendment retaliatory arrest claim. The case was remanded and Lozman settled with the City of Riviera Beach for $875,000.
Lozman came back to Riviera Beach with a new larger houseboat and a banner thanking the United States Supreme Court. He is currently in a new legal battle, now with the United States government over the environmental impacts of his houseboat where it is anchored in Signer Island, Riviera Beach, Florida. Only time will tell if this case gives Mr. Lozman a third bite at the Supreme Court apple.
Sol Blatt, Jr. Law Library Research Fellow
Juris Doctor Candidate, May 2022