According to The Kansas City Star, Janice and Carl Duffner had no idea that failing to maintain at least five percent of their front yard as conventional turf is a punishable offense in St. Peters. They also didn't realize that not abiding by the city's arbitrary rules as far as residential grass requirements are concerned would end up snowballing into the equivalent of committing murder, at least in terms of the penalties being levied against them by the local government.
But that's where the Duffners now find themselves as they press through in an ongoing legal fight to keep their garden completely grass-free. It's not even that they want to have to fight the city on the matter, except for the fact that Janice Duffner is allergic to grass, which is why the couple decided not to plant or cultivate it after first moving into their home back in 2002.
But nobody in a position of authority seems to care about any of this, nor do they care that the turf ordinance was passed by St. Peters' Board of Alderman in 2008, long after the Duffners removed all of the grass from their front yard. The saga has since made national headlines after a federal judge recently ruled that the Duffners have no legal recourse and must install at least five percent grass in their front yard.
The Duffners have been putting up an aggressive fight, having filed a civil rights action back in 2016. But thus far, they've been shot down every step of the way, which has prompted other civil rights groups to get involved on their behalf.
"If the city is permitted to impose Draconian fines and imprisonment simply because a citizen chooses to cultivate on their own private property lawful, harmless plants of their own choosing instead of a potentially harmful plant of the government's choosing, there is no longer any principled limit to the government's control over either the property or the owners," reads the Duffners' complaint.
After first presenting their case before the circuit court in St. Charles County and losing because they had "failed to exhaust their administrative remedies," the Duffners moved on to the Missouri Court of Appeals. A mixed ruling in this court brought the case to federal court, where the Duffners were once again denied their request.
U.S. District Judge John A. Ross reportedly made the decision that the Duffners had "failed to identify a fundamental right that is restricted by the Turf Grass Ordinance." He further maintained that the Supreme Court has held that "aesthetic considerations constitute a legitimate government purpose," denying the Duffners' claim that governments have no legal purview to force property owners to abide by such ordinances.
This type of thing has happened before, including in Florida back in 2016 when a Miami Shores couple was forced to actually dig up their organic vegetable garden and replace it with grass. The organic garden had been in place for 17 years in the couple's front yard before the city decided that it had to go.
"My estimation is that this is one of the most important property rights cases in the country right now," the Duffners' attorney, David Roland from the Freedom Center of Missouri, told the media. "We're going to go all hands on deck."
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