Supreme Court Decides Home Isn’t a Boat, Even if It Floats

Of all the things the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on, this may not be the weirdest, but it's up there.

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Handout / Reuters

Fane Lozman's houseboat is seen Riviera Beach, Florida, in this undated handout photo taken from court documents.

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.

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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.

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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.”