Missouri Turf Grass Ordinance Carl Janice Duffner

Judge Rules Homeowner Must Grow Grass in Yard, Despite Being Allergic

St. Peters, MO – A federal judge ruled that Missouri homeowners Carl and Janice Duffner must follow a city ordinance mandating grass in their yard, despite one of the homeowners declaring an allergy to grass. U.S. District Judge John Ross issued a 17-page ruling, which stated that the Duffners can be forced to plant turf grass in their own yard and stated that the couple “failed to identify a fundamental right that is restricted by the Turf Grass Ordinance.”

David Roland, the attorney for Carl and Janice Duffner, said he will take this case to the U.S Supreme Court if an appeal to this judge’s ruling is unsuccessful. Roland released a statement on behalf of the Duffners, noting the precedent being set by the government to threaten a family with hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and decades of imprisonment for refusing to make an addition to their property that would cause themselves physical harm.

The statement from Roland explained:

The court’s ruling is bad for anyone who thinks they have a constitutional right to use their own private property in lawful, harmless ways, or to decide for themselves who and what they will allow on their private property. If the government can force the Duffners to plant grass instead of the flowers they prefer, there is nothing that would prevent a local government from forcing property owners – at their own expense! – to put in and maintain a fence or a swimming pool or holiday lights.

And it is utterly absurd that the government can threaten its citizens with hundreds of thousands of dollars and twenty years in prison simply because they would rather have lawful, harmless flowers on their property rather than a plant that makes them sick. 

The next step is an appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. We feel like we have a good chance of getting this decision overturned.

After purchasing their home in 2002, Carl and Janice Duffner opted to plant a flower garden in place of a grass yard, as Janice, 69, said that she is allergic to turf grass. In 2008, the city of St. Peters passed an ordinance that requires homeowners to have a minimum of least 50 percent turf grass on their property.

The Duffners ignored the new ordinance and maintained their garden until neighbors reportedly complained about the garden and reported them to the city in 2014; the couple has subsequently become ensnared in a legal battle.

The Duffners applied for a variance that would allow them to be exempt from planting any grass on their property. The city of St. Peters Board of Zoning Adjustment responded by granting the couple a variance that reduced the amount of turf grass required from 50 percent to 5 percent and requiring the grass area to be in the front yard or in the side yard in front of the fence.

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Court documents indicate that the Duffners were required to comply by December 1, 2014, according to KARE 11. The couple refused because it still required them to grow grass, and they filed a lawsuit arguing that the 5 percent requirement “imposes a permanent obligation… for no reason other than that the government commands it.”

The Duffners filed a federal lawsuit in December 2016, which stated that the couple believed the city ordinance is “unnecessary for the advancement of any compelling or permissible state objective” and “imposes a permanent obligation on the owner to cultivate and maintain that unwanted physical presence on their property for no reason other than that the government commands it.”

The Duffner’s neighbor, Mark Letko, told KSDK News that some people in the neighborhood enjoy visiting the garden. “All of our friends want to walk through it,” Letko said. “I don’t know why anyone would want to take this pleasure away from her.” Letko also noted that some neighbors did not appreciate the garden and claimed it would “bring down the value” of their properties.

Letko questioned why the city has been making an issue out of the presence of a garden that is not harming anyone.

“If it was there to harm people or something like that but it’s not that way,” Letko said. “St. Peter’s have just gone too far. It’s not drugs or anything like that. We are talking about grass.”