Three years ago, the City of Riviera Beach destroyed multimillionaire Fane Lozman's home.
At the time, city officials said Lozman's 60-foot, two-story floating home was not a vessel and therefore ordered it dismantled at the marina where it was docked.
Work crews spent five days dismantling the house as Fozman watched helplessly.
But, on Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court declared, in a 7-2 decision, that Lozman's home was not a vessel and should not have been destroyed. Lozman, 51, is now free to return to court to seek damages against the city if he so chooses.
The original quarrel occurred when Riviera Beach had invoked maritime laws in federal court in a bid to rid the marina of Lozman's house, which was standing in the way of the city's controversial $2.4 billion plan to redevelop the marina.
At the time, the federal court sided with the city. But now the big guns have come in and overturned the ruling.
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the high court found that the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals screwed up by allowing Riviera Beach to seize Lozman's home under maritime law, when the home is not a boat or a ship, to begin with.
Breyer basically said that just because something floats, that doesn't automatically make it a seafaring vessel.
Like Pinocchio, for example.
"Not every floating structure is a 'vessel,' " Breyer wrote in his decision. "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,' even if they are 'artificial contrivances' capable of floating."
Lozman, who currently lives in Miami-Dade County, will now likely appear before a federal court judge to try to recoup financial losses, though details of the price of the house are not entirely known.
Lozman claims that the dust-up with Riviera Beach has resulted in his receiving death threats.
Riviera Beach spokesman William Giles says that the city was preparing a statement in response to the Supreme Court decision.
According to Lozman, "Riviera Beach is the cesspool of political corruption."
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Anthony Kennedy were the two dissenting votes in this case.
"In its haste to christen Lozman's craft a non-vessel (the court) delivers an analysis that will confuse the lower courts and upset our longstanding admiralty precedent," Sotomayor wrote in her ruling.
But Breyer's Pinocchio Is Not a Boat argument apparently won the day.
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