In Shoemaker v. City of Howell, a federal appeals court issued an important decision regarding the legality of municipal fees. The ordinance in Shoemaker required property owners to maintain the grassy area in the public right-of-way between the sidewalk and the street. When the property owner refused to mow that area, the city performed the work at the owner’s expense and then placed a lien on the property for the unpaid fees.
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected two constitutional challenges to the ordinance. First, the court said municipalities can lawfully require property owners to maintain the grassy area in adjacent public right-of-ways, since the property owner has a partial ownership interest in that area. The court also rejected the property owner’s procedural due-process challenge, holding that municipalities are not required to initiate ordinance prosecutions or offer formal appeal proceedings before imposing grass-mowing fees. In reaching that conclusion, the court emphasized the relatively low monetary amount of the fees, as well as the relative urgency of abating the ordinance violation.