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MIAMI (AP) — Court documents refer to it as "that certain unnamed gray, two-story vessel approximately 57 feet in length." To Fane Lozman, it was a floating Florida home never intended to sail the seas. Now, a long-running dispute over exactly what the structure was has landed before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lozman, a 50-year-old former Chicago financial trader, seemingly lost his nearly six-year battle with the seaside city of Riviera Beach when his home was hauled away in 2009 and later destroyed by court order. But Lozman refused to give up, claiming officials vindictively and illegally targeted him for eviction from the city's marina because of his vocal opposition to a major redevelopment plan.

"Whatever they had to do to get me out of there, they were going to do it," Lozman said. "All I want to do is live a quiet life. I didn't look for this drama, it came to me because I wanted to stay at the marina."

The only-in-Florida backstory matters less to the Supreme Court than a more fundamental question: When is something a vessel, and when is it not? The court agreed to take the case earlier this year and is expected to hear arguments in October.

The vessel definition is crucially important to not only people who live on the water but also to major commercial businesses such as floating casinos, hotels and restaurants, said Stanford University law professor Jeffrey Fisher. The outcome will determine whether federal maritime or state laws apply to structures that are moored, more or less permanently, in one place.

"Federal maritime law is very different often than state law because it's crafted for the specific dangers and concerns of maritime commerce and navigation at sea," said Fisher, an experienced Supreme Court litigator who is handling Lozman's appeal. "Here you have a question of federal law that has divided courts across the country. It's very significant."

For example, owners of floating homes usually must pay property taxes, while those owning vessels under maritime law do not. Coast Guard regulations require certain levels of crew for vessels. The standards differ on what kinds and amounts of damages can be awarded in personal injury lawsuits. There are different rules aboard vessels for employment disputes and compensation for workers injured on the job.

Owners of vessels and floating structures across the U.S. are closely watching the case so they know which set of laws to follow.

"The most overarching concern in maritime law on the planet is uniformity," said David Weill, a maritime attorney in Long Beach, Calif., who isn't involved in Lozman's case. "It's extremely important that shipping interests have uniform treatment as they go from port to port."

Two federal appeals courts have ruled the owner's intent is key to determining whether a structure is a vessel. In Lozman's case, however, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that what mattered most was if a structure was "practically capable of transportation over water," which closely tracks the language in federal law that dates to the 1870s.

Riviera Beach officials declined comment because of the pending legal case. But in documents urging the Supreme Court not to take the case, they insisted the structure was not similar to a land-based home that would be afforded important state law protections against seizure.

Yet Lozman's home had no engines, no bilge pumps, no steering mechanism, no lights or navigation aids. It had to be towed wherever it went. It had no Florida vessel registration number. All it did was float.

"It was a very unseaworthy craft," Lozman said, adding the appeal of living there was the immediate access to his speedboats and other pleasure watercraft.

Yet a Florida federal judge and the 11th Circuit judges determined the structure was, in fact, a vessel, in part because it had been towed several times to different marinas across hundreds of miles.

Lozman's story began when he picked the marina in Riviera Beach, one of South Florida's poorest coastal cities, as the place for his floating home. Not only did it give him easy access to his speedboats and pleasure craft, but it was governed by the same state laws as homes on land.

Then Lozman learned Riviera Beach was planning a $2.4 billion private redevelopment project for the marina. The plan included the use of its eminent domain powers to take many local businesses and homes for a project geared toward wealthy yacht owners. On May 10, 2006, the city council held a hastily-called private meeting to designate the project's master developer — one day before then-Gov. Jeb Bush signed a law prohibiting use of eminent domain authority for such non-public projects.

Lozman decided to challenge that decision in state court, arguing the meeting violated state open-government laws. That's when the trouble began.

Lozman claims he was followed and harassed, his truck tampered with and damaged. He started showing up at city council meetings, where he got thrown out regularly and was even arrested a couple of times. He became a fixture on local TV newscasts. The local politicians considered him a nuisance; other people saw him as a crusader.

Then the city served an eviction notice, contending that Lozman's 10-pound dachshund, Lady, was a dangerous dog and that he used unlicensed repair workers at his home. The city argued at the time that he was on a month-to-month lease that could be terminated under state landlord-tenant law.

No mention of the structure as a vessel — yet.

Lozman fought the eviction in court and won, with a jury finding in March 2007 that the eviction amounted to retaliation. Meanwhile, the marina redevelopment plan was shelved, only to be replaced by a scaled-down version that didn't include use of eminent domain powers. Lozman fought that plan, too.

The city then decided to change the rules at the marina, telling Lozman in 2009 his right to stay there would be revoked unless he got the structure registered as a vessel and proved it could be moved when a hurricane or tropical storm threatened. The city also demanded payment of more than $3,000 in dockage fees. When Lozman refused to pay or leave the marina, the city went to federal court and for the first time sought to use U.S. maritime law to impose a lien on the structure as a vessel, not a house.

Fisher said this maneuver was a game-changer and set the dispute on its course to the Supreme Court. The floating home would have been protected from seizure under state law. But a judge sided with the city, so the structure was seized then bought by Riviera Beach for $1,400 and ultimately destroyed.

So, Lozman can never get his floating home back. He's now living in Miami Beach and is no longer battling the latest marina redevelopment plan. But he won't give up the legal dispute over his home, and he made enough money in the financial markets to take the case to the highest court in the land.

"When someone punches you in the face, you either fight back or you run and hide," he said. "I'm going to fight back."

The case is Fane Lozman v. The City of Riviera Beach, Florida. No. 11-626.

 

http://news.yahoo.com/clash-over-floating-home-reaches-us-supreme-court-144928490.html



-- Edited by admin on Saturday 31st of March 2012 01:42:44 PM

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How to deal with a Lozman situation, make it mobile, choose the location carefully be aware that third party interference is the most important project factor in any floating living space project...

Check the threads how to scout for a ideal location and avoid basic pitfalls like locating in competed interest zones.

Forget fighting it trough legally - it is all for the supreme court - it is much cheaper to build on a interference free location than take on the fight.

There are interference free locations on the shorefront .



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more about interference in floating projects...
concretesubmarine.activeboard.com/t56351996/business-and-third-party-interference-freedom/

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By Jane Musgrave

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Fane Lozman, a Marine turned multi-millionaire inventor turned thorn in the side of Riviera Beach officials, has won his long-running legal battle against the city over his floating home.

In a 7-2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declared that Lozman’s 60-foot, two-story home that was once anchored at the Riviera Beach Marina was not a vessel. As Lozman has argued for years, the court ruled that the city shouldn’t have been able to seize it using centuries-old maritime law.

The decision sets the stage for Lozman to return to court to seek damages against Riviera Beach for destroying his home, which he valued at more than $50,000. He said he will also ask the city to reimburse him for more than $300,000 in legal fees he spent since the fight began nearly seven years ago.

“It’s an amazing day in my life,” said Lozman, who represented himself in the early stages of the legal battle. “Today is a day to celebrate that the legal process works. It shows if you’re a stubborn enough son of a b—— you can win. You have no idea what’s going through my mind. Just to actually get a reversal — it kind of blows your mind.”

City officials were understandably less effusive about the decision. “We are disappointed with the Supreme Court’s ruling,” City Attorney Pamala Ryan said in a statement. “However, we respect and accept the decision, and we will abide by legal implications that flow from it.”

Maritime lawyers, who have been watching the case closely, said the ramifications are potentially far-reaching. In deciding the case, the high court struck down lower court rulings that turned on a simple concept that if it floats, it’s a boat.

Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen Breyer said such an interpretation is overly broad. “Not every floating structure is a ‘vessel,’ ” Breyer wrote. “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,’ even if they are ‘artificial contrivances’ capable of floating.”

Instead, he wrote, the key is whether a “reasonable observer, looking to the home’s physical characteristics and activities, would consider it designed to a practical degree for carrying people or things over water.” Because Lozman’s strange craft had no engine, no steering ability and could neither generate nor store electricity it clearly was not designed as a means to transport people or cargo, he said.

The test as outlined by Breyer, which came with a sharply worded dissent written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy, is likely to spur additional litigation, predicted Boca Raton attorney Michael McLeod, chairman of the Admiralty Law Committee for the Florida Bar. By midday, his email box was filling up with messages from attorneys across the nation who said they would be advising marinas, marine bankers and others they represent to review their operations in light of the ruling. It could arguably be a factor in the types of vessels allowed to dock at marinas and the types of non-traditional craft that are approved for maritime loans. It could also affect how creditors can recover unpaid bills.

The distinction — what is and isn’t a vessel — is important because of laws that have developed since the nation’s founding to deal with the unique characteristics of boats, namely that they can be easily moved, leaving workers stranded or creditors unpaid. As a result, people have been given the power to “arrest” boats to recover debts. In some cases, that option may no longer be available.

To illustrate the import of the case, dozens of groups, such as the National Marine Bankers Association, the American Gaming Association, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, and Floating Home Associations in Seattle and Sausalito, Calif., filed briefs. Even the U.S. Solicitor General chimed in. He worried that if the court found Lozman’s home was a boat, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Coast Guard and myriad other federal agencies could be forced to change policies and possibly increase manpower to regulate and inspect floating structures that were never intended for navigation.

Breyer acknowledged that the new test of what constitutes a boat isn’t exact. Admitting it is “neither perfectly precise nor always determinative, it is workable and consistent and should offer guidance in a significant number of borderline cases,” Breyer wrote.

Sotomayor disagreed. In a 12-page dissent, she countered that the court muddied the waters. “In its haste to christen Lozman’s craft a non-vessel (the court) delivers an analysis that will confuse the lower courts and upset our longstanding admiralty precedent,” she wrote.

Like McLeod, Lozman said the case’s legal questions are complex. His own legal path isn’t clear-cut. But, he said, he is prepared to do whatever he can to recover the money he lost simply because, he claims, the city wanted to silence him.

The high court noted that lower courts forced Riviera Beach to post a $25,000 bond which Lozman could seize if he ultimately proved the city wrong. Ryan made no mention of the bond in her prepared statement Tuesday. Instead, she said, the city would reimburse Lozman the $300 he spent filing the case with the nation’s high court and pick up some of his printing costs. City spokesman William Jiles said city officials aren’t certain about the fate of the bond.

Lozman said he’s not surprised the city isn’t ready to give up the fight. Vindictiveness has fueled the battle from the start, he said. Upset by his vociferous opposition to their failed plan to transform the poverty-wracked city into an upscale yachting community, Riviera Beach officials just wanted to get rid of him, he said. The easiest way was to use maritime law to tow his home out of the city.

“To punish someone just because they’re a city activist, that’s not what America is all about,” he said. “Where does the city get off saying we’re just going to squash this guy?

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www.palmbeachpost.com/news/news/crime-law/court-rules-lozmans-floating-home-not-covered-unde/nTxKy/

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