When Kristi Allen first read the letter, she thought it had to be some sort of scam.
The letter was written by attorneys representing the city of Dunedin, Florida.
It demanded she pay $92,600 in fines for overgrown grass and stagnant pool water — at a home she no longer owned.
The letter threatened that if she didn’t pay in two weeks, the attorneys representing the city of Dunedin would sue her.
Soon, after interest and other fees, Allen’s debt increased to $103,559, which is about twice her yearly income, according to USAToday.
Then, in 2018, about 90 days after she first received the letter, the city of Dunedin did sue her in order to collect over $100,000 in fines.
And that set off a legal battle over how governments are able to utilize their power to impose unreasonable fines on citizens.
What Allen, a 38-year-old mother of two, first thought must be a scam turned into a virtual nightmare.
One that could potentially bankrupt her and her family.
“I haven’t woken up from it yet,” she recalled in an interview.
Dunedin, a small town located outside of Tampa, has been cracking down on code violations, fining homeowners with excessive fines.
Meanwhile, in the past five years, the city has netted nearly $3.6 million in fines from residents.
The city of Dunedin fines its citizens for violating laws that prohibit things like grass growing taller than 10-inches high, or recreational vehicles parked near certain streets at certain hours or for bricks and siding that don’t match.
In February, the Supreme Court ruled in Timbs v. Indiana that local governments cannot impose excessive fines.
That decision is one of the first constraints put in place by the federal government regarding how much money states and cities are able to charge citizens for things from overgrown lawns to speeding.
However, the courts did not specify exactly what is considered “excessive” and left arbitrary powers to local governments to answer the question how much is too much.
Would a local government deem $103,000 to be too much?
Maybe not, if they’re making millions by imposing such fines.
Read the letter sent to Allen, as well as the Supreme Court decision from Timbs v. Indiana below.