Fane Lozman Loses His Appeal in the Case of the Towed Houseboat

The case of city-hall gadfly Fane Lozman's houseboat -- known as Riviera Beach v. That certain unnamed gray, two-story vessel approximately fifty-seven feet in length -- may finally have come to an end.

More than two years after U.S. marshals came and towed away Lozman's houseboat with all of his possessions, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the city -- rejecting Lozman's claim that his First Amendment rights were violated by the city, alleging his eviction was an act of retaliation for being a constant critic of the city.

The court battle between Lozman and Riviera Beach began in 2006, when Lozman sued the city for violating state law over a $2.4 billion plan with a private to developer to boot out residents of the marina where Lozman resided and give it a ritzy makeover.

A few moths later, Lozman was in court again after the city tried to evict him. He represented himself in that battle, claiming the eviction attempt was pure political retribution. With a little help from Bob Norman, the jury decided Lozman wouldn't have been evicted if it weren't for his political activism.

Two years later, the private developer was back trying to take over the marina. The city concocted a new rule that the boats in the marina needed propulsion -- which Lozman's home didn't have -- and after he refused to agree to that new term, the feds came in and took his aquatic abode.

In Lozman's appeal, he argued that his "floating residential structure" did not meet the federal law's definition of "vessel" -- a distinction that could have changed the game quite a bit.

The court decided that since it was capable of being towed, it counts as a vessel -- making him liable for maritime trespass and agreeing with the district court's ruling. The circuit court's decision quoted another circuit court ruling that defines "vessel" a bit broadly:

No doubt the three men in a tub would also fit in our definition [of "vessel"], and one probably could make a convincing case for Jonah inside the whale.

On First Amendment grounds, the court again sided with the lower court ruling that Lozman presented evidence that there was probably a feud going on between Lozman and Riviera Beach but he didn't establish that all of the crap rained down upon him by the city was due to acts of retaliation.

The court's ruling said not only were this case and Lozman's victorious case not identical, it also said, "It's not even similar -- factually or legally," which sounds like a bit of an exaggeration.

Lozman told the Pulp in 2009 that he'd fight the city to the end, so we'll see if this is, actually, the end.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley