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House or boat? Supreme Court rejects floating home appeal

CURT ANDERSON

AP Legal Affairs Writer

MIAMI (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a Florida man’s latest appeal in a landmark case involving the seizure and destruction of his floating home.

The justices denied without comment Fane Lozman’s petition asking them to enforce a ruling from 2013 by ordering the city of Riviera Beach to pay him about $365,000 for the home’s value and legal fees. Lower courts have also ruled against Lozman, and this was his last appeal.

“I am disappointed that the lower courts were allowed to ignore the clear ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in my case without any corrective action being imposed,” Lozman said in an email. “Equal justice under law, engraved above the entrance to the Supreme Court, unfortunately, did not happen this time around.”

The court’s ruling from 2013 set a new standard for floating homes and other structures. It meant strict federal maritime law could no longer be applied to disputes involving floating structures that have none of the usual characteristics of a vessel, such as an engine, rudder or sails. The decision affected thousands of floating homes and business owners throughout the U.S., including floating gambling casinos docked on rivers.

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority in the case, said the decision comes down to a simple proposition: “Not every floating structure is a vessel.”

“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,'” Breyer wrote.

The dispute began after Lozman took up residence at a Riviera Beach marina in 2006. He became involved in a public battle with the city over its plans to turn the marina over to a developer, eventually leading to the seizure and destruction in 2010 of his floating home under maritime law.
Riviera Beach argued that it shouldn’t be forced to pay Lozman because it was acting in good faith under the applicable law at the time, before the Supreme Court decision.

Defeated in court, Lozman now plans to devote his energies to building a floating stilt-home community on 25 acres of mostly submerged land he purchased along the Intracoastal Waterway north of West Palm Beach — and not far from President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

“My noble fight to continue to fight political corruption in Palm Beach County will continue,” Lozman said in the email.

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