A kooky South Florida story made the big time in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, as justices heard arguments in a case that will decide whether Fane Lozman's floating home -- targeted for removal from a marina by Riviera Beach and towed away by U.S. marshals -- was a building or a boat.
While the Justices were having boatloads of fun with the Lozman case, they knew that the outcome of it will shape maritime commerce in a very important way... it would be quite important if the Court could say -- once and for all -- what the word "vessel" means.
Justices didn't accept lawyer David C. Frederick's argument for the city that the current description of a vessel as something that "floats, moves, and carries people or things on water" was clear enough to carry the day.An inner tube or inflatable raft would fit that description, Chief Justice John Roberts started. Justice Stephen Breyer then held up his coffee mug."A cup doesn't float," Frederick said. "Oh, well, this is lighter than you think," Breyer retorted."How about a garage door?" added Justice Sonia Sotomayor.Then Justice Elena Kagan jumped in: "Paste a couple of pennies on the inner tube. Now it carries things."
Lozman's lawyer, Jeffrey L. Fisher, argued that his house clearly wasn't a vessel, because it was dependent on the land to work properly. "A floating home cannot function if it's not tied to land. It doesn't matter how many amps we want to fight about. It's whether it needs that power from land, whether it needs those connections to land. A houseboat, like any other vessel, can fully function away from port," Fisher said.
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