Riviera Beach activist Fane Lozman has been in a long legal battle with the city after Riviera Beach officials got the feds to seize and tow away the
houseboat floating home* where he lived in a local marina.
The towing, nearly three years ago, followed a previous trial in which a jury found that Lozman had been evicted because of his activist behavior. Former New Times columnist Bob Norman was a witness in that case. Lozman, a self-made millionaire who represents himself in court, vowed to prevail.
In August of last year, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Lozman's claim that the city had trampled his First Amendment rights and towed the boat in retaliation. We ended that story on an uncertain note, but that was not the end.
A New Times writer got an email from Lozman this morning with the subject line, "BREAKING NEWS!!!!!! U S SUPREME COURT TAKES LOZMAN V RIVIERA BEACH CASE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
The Supreme Court will discuss Lozman's case in its October 2012 term.
A key part of Lozman's failed appeal involved distinguishing a "vessel" from a "floating residential structure." The appeals court wasn't impressed:
Lozman claims that the Defendant is a "floating residential structure," not a "vessel," as the terms are defined under Florida law. These arguments miss the point... the term "vessel" is specifically defined in the United States Code.
But the Supreme Court has agreed to take up the discussion of what constitutes a "vessel." Here's what the justices will discuss:
Whether a floating structure that is indefinitely moored, receives power and other utilities from shore, and is not intended to be used in maritime transportation or commerce constitutes a "vessel" under 1 U.S.C. § 3, thus triggering federal maritime jurisdiction.
We'll update with more from Lozman when we have it.
Update: Lozman explains that a "floating residential structure" *(it's not a houseboat, he says, because they can navigate through waters) is subject to state property law, while a "vessel" is subject to federal admiralty law. His house was towed away by the feds, which is a problem if the home was not, in fact, a "vessel."
By the way, wondering what happened to the house? The city bought it back at a federal auction with taxpayer money and proceeded to destroy everything in it, because they could. "My bed, my desk, my dining room table, my $3,000 stove," says Lozman. "They destroyed everything."
Lozman calls Judge William Dimitrouleas -- the guy who issued the order to tow his house -- "just a nasty guy. What'd I ever do to you, judge?" He hopes that the Supreme Court will rule that Dimitrouleas was wrong to issue the order and that Lozman should be compensated for the destruction of his home.
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"I'm really grateful that we have a court that can recognize that something is wrong," says Lozman. The Supreme Court is also in a position to establish precedent, making sure that floating homes aren't treated as boats in some states and as houses in others.
"I don't want anybody to go through the horror show I did," says Lozman, who is still shocked and thrilled that the highest court in the land vindicated his outrage by deciding to hear the case.