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The Buckeye Institute Files Amicus Brief Opposing Excessive Fines in Columbus Landscaping Case

Nov 08, 2021

Columbus, OH – On Friday, The Buckeye Institute filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Stevens v. Columbus calling on the court to protect citizens from overzealous city ordinances that result in excessive fines—which in this case could total more than $900,000—in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.

“Since the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, English law and later the English Bill of Rights has prohibited excessive fines, and our Founding Fathers viewed the freedom from excessive fines as a fundamental protection of liberty,” said Jay Carson, senior litigator at The Buckeye Institute. “This right was seen as so vital to liberty, that in drafting the Eighth Amendment, the Framers adopted the prohibition on excessive fines verbatim from the 1689 English Bill of Rights. This protection against government overreach is just as relevant today in Columbus, Ohio as it was when King John signed the Magna Carta on the field of Runnymede in 1215.” 

To prevent erosion and improve their home’s curb appeal Andrew Stevens and Melanie Copenhaver built a terraced garden with brick retaining walls on the steep hill that makes up their front yard. The city of Columbus cited them for conducting landscaping that had not been approved by the city’s Historic Resources Commission, which carries a potential penalty of between $100 and $1,000 per day. Stevens and Copenhaver sued in federal district court, challenging the city’s ambiguous ordinance that gives the unelected Historic Resources Commission standardless authority to determine what landscaping is acceptable and what is landscaping is not, as well as the city’s ability to enforce its aesthetic decisions with crippling fines. 

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