Of all the things the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on, this may not be the weirdest, but it’s up there.
Is a 60-by-12 foot Florida home that happens to float on water — that’s it in the picture, attached to a towboat — a house or a vessel?
Just a home, it turns out, says the Court, which ruled 7-2 on Tuesday that the two-story, motor home-like structure that was at one point parked in a Riviera Beach, Fla., marina can’t be seized under U.S. maritime law and destroyed.
Well, shouldn’t have been, anyway. Though the ruling was a victory for homeowner Fane Lozman and a major upset for the city of Riviera Beach, Lozman’s home had already been seized and destroyed after he resisted paying $3,040 in court-ordered dockage fees. Lozman says he’s been fighting the city over the matter for six-and-a-half years.
“Not every floating structure is a ‘vessel’,” wrote Justice Stephen Breyer for the majority (via Reuters). ”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’.”
What can Lozman do now that his floating abode’s been scuppered? Seek compensation, of course: The ruling reverses a previous one in the lower court which had upheld the city’s fees.
The decision has broader implications, too (which, no doubt, is in part why justices heard it): Riverboat casinos have argued for years that they shouldn’t be subject to U.S. maritime laws on top of state licensing laws and regulations. According to Lozman’s lawyer, Jeffrey Fisher, a Stanford University law professor, the ruling restricts maritime rules and regulations to issues that “genuinely involve maritime commerce and transportation.”