“My hobby is fighting political corruption, trying to remove politicians that my investigations show are corrupt, and I take credit for removing three North Bay Village commissioners and two North Bay Village mayors from office,” he said.
Now, the definition of a vessel, and whether state or federal law will apply, is the keystone of the case, with implications for those nationwide who live on the water, as well as for commercial businesses such as floating casinos, hotels and restaurants, said Kerri Barsh, a shareholder with Greenberg Traurig in Miami, who will serve as “second chair” for Lozman during the oral arguments, along with Stanford University law professor Jeffrey Fisher.
“It’s a pivotal case for federal maritime jurisdiction, and in the way we view it, if the 11th Circuit Court’s decision were to be upheld, there would be a broad and dramatic expansion of federal jurisdiction over maritime matters,” Barsh said Sunday from Washington.
The U.S. government backs Lozman in the case, and Assistant Solicitor General Curtis Dannon will also speak on his behalf during oral arguments, Barsh said.
The Supreme Court’s ruling, which could take 60 to 90 days or more, will determine whether federal maritime or state laws apply to structures that are moored, more or less permanently, in one place.
As a result, owners of vessels and floating structures across the U.S., including in Seattle and Sausalito, Calif., are closely watching the case, Barsh said.
The entire oral arguments will take one hour, beginning at 11 a.m., split between Lozman’s side and Riviera Beach’s.
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, in documents urging the Supreme Court not to take the case, 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 could not get a Florida vessel registration number. All it did was float.
“It was a very unseaworthy craft,” Lozman said. “In the structure’s 33-year lifespan it was stationary for 32 years, 360 days and had five days worth of movement.”
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 for his floating home, because Hurricane Wilma had destroyed his former marina in North Bay Village.
It gave him easy access to his speedboats and pleasure craft, and like his previous floating home, 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 2,200 local homes and businesses 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.