Janice and Carl's front yard is planted with flowers and plants instead of grass, going against a St. Peters ordinance that says 50 percent of their yard must be grass. (Source: David Rowland)
The flag taking the Duffners point of view against the city flies in their yard. (Source: David Rowland)
(RNN) – A federal judge told a Missouri couple they must grow grass in their yard in accordance with the city’s ordinance, even though the wife is severely allergic to grass.
Janice and Carl Duffner planted an extensive flower garden in their front yard in St. Peters instead of grass. In 2014, a neighbor complained to the city about the garden, which has planting beds, mulched areas, two small ponds, paths and seating areas, according the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. A St. Peters ordinance required that 50 percent of a home's yard must be "turf" grass.
In 2016, the Duffners filed a federal suit saying the turf grass ordinance didn’t meet any permissible “state objective,” and imposed an obligation on them to maintain something they did not want on their property “for no reason other than the government demands it.”
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge John Ross said in his decision that the Duffners failed to show any “fundamental right restricted by the Turf Grass Ordinance.”
According to their lawyer, David Roland, of the Freedom Center of Missouri, if the city decided to enforce the maximum penalty and fines, the couple could pay about $180,000 to $200,000, or serve up to 30 years in prison. The minimum penalty is around $15,000 with some jail time.
Roland said they will appeal the decision to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and cited that the city violated the Eighth Amendment because these fines are excessive.
“If a city can compel citizens to devote half of their property to growing a plant that the citizen does not want and that makes them sick, there is no longer any principled limit to the government’s control over private property,” he said in a statement.
Since the complaint and the first lawsuit, the local government issued a variance reducing the amount of grass required to 5 percent in the front or side yard, but Janice Duffner said that would mean 849 square feet of grass.
“I don’t know why the city is fighting so long and so hard against these two, but as long as they’re going to fight it, we’re going to fight it,” Roland said.
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