BLOOMING RIDICULOUS: Federal Judge Rules Property Rights Not “Fundamental,” Okays Twenty-Year Prison Sentences for Growing Harmless Flowers

BLOOMING RIDICULOUS: Federal Judge Rules Property Rights Not “Fundamental,” Okays Twenty-Year Prison Sentences for Growing Harmless Flowers

14779 Audrain Rd. 815            Mexico, Missouri                (573) 567-0307

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                                                     CONTACT:  Dave Roland

March 29, 2018                                                                                                      (573) 567-0307


BLOOMING RIDICULOUS: Federal Judge Says City May Force Senior Citizens to Grow Plants That Make Them Sick, Twenty Years in Prison for Noncompliance Not “Excessive”


Mexico, Missouri—Late yesterday afternoon U.S. District Judge John Ross ruled that even though the U.S. Constitution says that it protects citizens’ property rights, cities can force homeowners to devote at least half of their yard to growing a plant of the government’s choosing, even if the homeowners are allergic to that government-mandated plant.

Carl and Janice Duffner are senior citizens who, due to severe grass allergies, converted their entire yard into a beautiful, well-maintained, grass-free flower garden that includes a landscaped hillside and flowers blooming from multiple mulched planting areas that are interspersed with walkways, sitting areas, and two small ponds.

All was well until one of their neighbors complained to the City of St. Peters that the Duffners were not in compliance with a city ordinance that requires residential property owners to devote at least half of their yard to growing and maintaining “turf grass.” According to the ordinance, homeowners who do not grow the city-mandated turf grass can face fines of up to $500 and also 10 days in prison for each and every day they fail to comply with the city’s mandate.

“This is one of the most bizarre laws I have ever seen,” said Dave Roland, the Duffner’s attorney and director of litigation for the Freedom Center of Missouri.  “There is absolutely nothing unlawful or harmful about the Duffners’ flowers, yet St. Peters is threatening them with extraordinary fines and decades in prison simply because they choose to grow flowers instead of a plant that makes them sick.”

Judge Ross’s opinion rejected the Duffners’ claim that the U.S. Constitution protects citizens’ rights to use their private property in lawful, harmless ways of the owners’ choosing, and also the right to exclude unwanted persons or things from their property.  Judge Ross also upheld the city’s penalty ordinance, which authorizes St. Peters to penalize the Duffners’ “violation” with more than $180,000 in fines and up to twenty years in prison.

“A penalty is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment if it is ‘grossly disproportionate’ to the offense it is intended to punish,” explained Jenifer Zeigler Roland, the Freedom Center’s executive director. “The judge acknowledged that the Duffners’ flowers are not illegal, have not harmed anyone, and are not likely to harm anyone, but somehow still concluded that it might be constitutional to fine these senior citizens hundreds of thousands of dollars and to put them in prison for two decades.”

The Duffners are going to appeal Judge Ross’s decision to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“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,” Dave Roland said. “Likewise, if governments can impose such ridiculous penalties for completely harmless behaviors, the Eighth Amendment is practically useless.  We are confident that the Eighth Circuit will reverse this terrible decision.”

Founded in November 2010, the Freedom Center of Missouri is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to research, litigation, and education in defense of individual liberty and constitutionally limited government. The Freedom Center is one of Missouri’s leading legal advocates for the constitutional protection of citizens’ right to own property and use it in harmless, lawful ways without governmental interference.

Additional information about the Freedom Center’s mission, cases, and activities can be found online at


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[NOTE:  To arrange interviews on this subject, journalists may call Dave Roland at (573) 567-0307.]

31 - Memorandum and Order Granting Summary Judgment

8 thoughts on “BLOOMING RIDICULOUS: Federal Judge Rules Property Rights Not “Fundamental,” Okays Twenty-Year Prison Sentences for Growing Harmless Flowers

  1. This judge is insane as is the ruling.
    What if a city makes a ordinance that all home owners must devote half if their property to public parking???? Where then would be able to build your residence?

  2. As a City Administrator I find that ordinance unconscionable. No city should ever go so far as to mandate what percentage of grass or any other vegetative material “MUST” be grown in or on any piece of property within its boundary’s. To my perspective as a City Administrator, I would have to tell the elected officials they are stepping into dangerous Constitutional territory, and that the city attorney is an idiot.

  3. If I were the home owner I would have let the city issue the summons or whatever, went to municipal court when you generally are found guilty, then appeal from the municipal court de novo to the county circuit court, demand a jury trial. Then go through the process if necessary (that is if you were found not guilty & the ordinance invalid in relation to Missouri Constitution and/or statutes) I would have demanded a jury trial and i feel positive NO jury would have found them guilty.
    I just would have proceeded in Missouri’s Courts rather than federal and I believe this couple would have won, especially with a jury. I would never completely trust a judge only to rule.

    1. There are three difficulties with the approach you proposed. First, the Duffners are very definitely in violation of the City’s ordinance, so the only way a jury could fail to convict is if they refused to let the City apply its law. That does sometimes happen, but very, very infrequently. Second, if a jury acquits, you lose your ability to challenge the constitutionality of the ordinance, meaning that you’ve invested the time and resources into a fight that, if successful, PREVENTS you from accomplishing the strategic purpose of the lawsuit. And third, as our experience in the state court phase of this case demonstrated, some judges will actively look for ways to avoid addressing certain constitutional issues and that may result in crippling the case’s chances on appeal.

      We ultimately dismissed the state court action and re-filed in federal court because that route offered us the best chance of getting serious consideration of our issues with the clean set of facts we needed to maximize both our likelihood of success and the potential impact of our success.

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