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6th Circuit Upholds City's Right to Enforce Grass Ordinance Within Public Right-of-Way

By Kenneth P. Lane / Jul 30, 2015

On July 29, 2015, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld a municipality's ability to require a property owner to maintain the strip of land between the public sidewalk and street curb by local ordinance. In Shoemaker v City of Howell (Case No. 11-15135), the City of Howell's "grass ordinance" required property owners or occupants to maintain the grassy area between the sidewalk and street curb so that grass, weeds and other vegetation do not grow in excess of eight inches. In an apparent protest over the removal of a tree to accommodate a City-wide street improvement project, a homeowner stopped mowing the right-of-way area adjacent to his property on the basis that the strip of land was public property. In response, the City twice hired a contractor to mow the area and billed the property owner, prompting a lawsuit.

On appeal, the Sixth Circuit determined that under Michigan law the homeowner technically owned the property at all relevant times and the City merely possessed a right-of-way for public use. In upholding the City's authority to enforce its ordinance and impose the costs of the contractor on the homeowner, the Sixth Circuit held that no fundamental right is impacted by the ordinance's requirement that the homeowner mow and maintain the strip of land.

If you have any questions regarding any of the above information please contact your Clark Hill Municipal or Education Law attorney.