Even After Supreme Court Win, Floating House Owner Continues Legal Fight
Fane Lozman won a U.S. Supreme Court decision finding his floating home was a house and not boat, but he said he's still not getting justice after a federal magistrate valued his loss at $7,500.
Lozman offered advertisements of comparable floating homes in the Florida Keys priced from $185,000 to $265,000 in a motion filed Tuesday to vacate U.S. Magistrate Judge Lurana Snow's report.
The West Palm Beach judge used a 5-year-old report ordered by a federal judge when Lozman's floating home, which had no engine, was originally seized as a maritime vessel by the U.S. Marshals Service in Riviera Beach.
"Are they pissed off I got them reversed? Now I'm being punished for winning this," Lozman told the Daily Business Review. "This is pathetic."
The 57-foot, two-story structure was towed to the Miami River by the city and set aflame in 2009 in a legal dispute that filled state and federal court files. Riviera Beach and federal authorities contended they had the right to seize the property under maritime law.
U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas in Fort Lauderdale sided with the city, but Lozman appealed. He had retired after making millions of dollars during the tech boom as a stock trader and made his floating home a cause celebre.
Lozman, who has described himself as a "corruption-fighting activist," recruited a legal juggernaut to pursue his appeal, including renowned Stanford University law professor Jeffrey L. Fisher and attorneys from Greenberg Traurig and Astigarraga Davis.
The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 last year that houseboats constitute homes, not vessels, and are not subject to maritime law.
The decision was substantial, affecting more than 5,000 Americans with floating homes, and there are more than 60 floating casinos in the United States.
Lozman estimated 3,000 hours were spent litigating the case on his behalf.
On remand, he asked Dimitrouleas for compensation and living expenses of $267,497 plus sanctions of $271,318 to be split by himself and the clerk of courts.
With the questioned referred to Snow, she cited the 2009 maritime survey in denying Lozman's requests Feb. 10, recommending he get paid only $7,500 for the seized property.
"It's a slap in the face of Supreme Court that you are still trying to argue this is a vessel," Lozman said. "I'm angry. I won a good fight, and they are still making me jump through hoops and punishing me."
Lozman said Snow wrongfully adopted the maritime survey in estimating reimbursement. He said the surveyor was picked by Riviera Beach over his objections five years ago.
The compensation dispute is not the only Lozman case in federal court. He is still pursuing a civil rights complaint against Riviera Beach as well.
Last month, Lozman agreed to drop seven city commissioners from the lawsuit in exchange for being allowed to amend his complaint against the city for targeting him for speaking out against redevelopment efforts.
Lozman said Dimitrouleas said in open court that he is due compensation for both his living expenses and his destroyed home. Dimitrouleas ordered the vessel surveyor's report five years ago when the houseboat was seized by federal marshals.
"I want to hold the judge to what he said and not some fantasy this surveyor has come up with," Lozman said. "The Supreme Court ruled my home was not a vessel. It is ludicrous to then value my home with a vessel surveyor's opinion."