Turner v. State ex rel. Gruver

Decision Date27 October 1964
Docket NumberNo. 64-348,64-348
Citation168 So.2d 192
PartiesJack M. TURNER, Thomas N. Balikas, Fredrick N. Barad, Mattie Bell Davis, J. Carrington Gramling, Gerald Klein, Lloyd S. Marks, Thomas G. O'Connell, Celestino Ruberia, John H. Smith, Charles Snowden and Edwin Strickland, Judges of the Metropolitan Court In and For Dade County, Florida, Appellants, v. STATE of Florida ex rel. Franklin E. GRUVER, Appellee.
CourtFlorida District Court of Appeals

Jay M. Lurie, Miami, for appellee.



The code of Metropolitan Dade County (hereinafter referred to as Metro), as an essential sanitation measure enacted under the police power, made provision for garbage and waste collection and disposal. §§ 15-1 to 15-33, Metro Code. The program was made applicable in certain unincorporated areas of the county, as to properties improved by residences or commercial establishments. § 15-23. Fees were established, and the amounts were based on the quantity of garbage of waste involved. § 15-24. Provision was made for residents to use the alternative of taking their garbage and waste to designated county dump areas, for disposition there at small cost . § 15-25. The Metro code does not classify the charges as taxes, but as fees. The 'waste fees' are made payable semi-annually by residents and are payable by commercial establishments annually, and monthly as they are billed for extra service charges. § 15-24. 1 A catch-all provision appearing as § 15-32 makes violation of any of the preceding 31 sections of the code a crime punishable by fine not to exceed $500, or imprisonment not exceeding 30 days, or both.

The appellee Franklin E. Gruver filed a suggestion of prohibition in the circuit court to prevent his prosecution in the Metro court for nonpayment of a fee imposed for garbage or waste collection from his property. Rule nisi in prohibition was issued, and later made absolute. The respondent Metro court appealed.

The question briefed and argued on the appeal was whether imprisonment of a property owner for failure to pay a debt imposed on him for garbage or waste collection was interdicted by § 16 of the Declaration of Rights of the Constitution of Florida, F.S.A., as being in violation of the guarantee against imprisonment for debt. The trial judge answered that question in the affirmative, and we agree.

Section 16 of the Declaration of Rights of Florida is as follows:

'Imprisonment for debt. No person shall be imprisoned for debt, except in cases of fraud.'

In Holman v. Hollis, 94 Fla.App., 614, 114 So. 254, 255, it was said: 'The accepted definition of 'debt' is: 'That which is due from one person to another, whether money, goods, or services; that which one person is bound to pay to another; a thing owed.'' In Black's Law Dictionary a debt is defined as 'an obligation to pay a sum certain; or a sum which may be ascertained by simple mathematical calculation from known facts; regardless of whether the liability arises by contract or is implied or imposed by law.'

The rule generally recognized is that taxes and excises including license fees are not debts within the meaning of a constitutional prohibition against imprisonment for debt. The obligation placed by the Metro code on landowners to pay a charge for garbage and waste collection and disposal is not a tax but is a charge imposed for a special service performed to the owner by the county, and as such it constitutes a debt within the guarantee of § 16 of the Declaration of Rights against imprisonment for debt. It was so held (as to hotel inspection service) in Hubbell v. Higgins, 148 Iowa 36, 126 N.W. 914, 918, and State v. McFarland, 60 Wash. 98, 110 P. 792, 794. In the first of those cases, in dealing with this proposition, the Iowa court said:

'Section 16 of the act provides as follows: 'Any owner, manager, agent or person in charge of a hotel who shall obstruct, hinder or interfere with an inspector or his deputy in the proper discharge of his duty, or who shall willfully fail or neglect to comply with any of the provisions of this act, or who shall fail to pay the proper fee for inspection shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction thereof, be fined not exceeding one hundred ($100.00) dollars or imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding thirty days .' It is said that under this section a mere failure on the part of the hotel keeper to pay the inspection fee is made a misdemeanor and that this is so, even though he comply with every other requisite of the law, and that the effect of such provision is to subject the hotel keeper to imprisonment for failure to pay a debt. We think this contention must be sustained. That is to say, that part of section 16 which makes a mere failure to pay the inspection fee a misdemeanor punishable by fine and imprisonment is clearly unconstitutional as being a violation of section 19, article 1, of the Constitution of this state, which forbids imprisonment for a debt. See Chauvin v. Valiton, 8 Mont. 451, 20 Pac. 658, 3 L.R.A. 194. It is also clear to us, however, that this provision is not essential to the integrity of the act...

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10 cases
  • Schiefer v. State
    • United States
    • Wyoming Supreme Court
    • 12 Mayo 1989
    ...masquerading as penal laws and contravene the constitutional prohibition against imprisonment for debt. See Turner v. State ex rel. Gruver, 168 So.2d 192, 194 (Fla.App.1964) (citing 16 C.J.S. Constitutional Law § 204(4) When a court imposes a fine known to be beyond the ability of the defen......
  • Tyler v. State , 2D08–2717.
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • 21 Septiembre 2011
    ...or identification card, the statute violates the constitutional prohibition against imprisonment for debt. In Turner v. State ex rel. Gruver, 168 So.2d 192 (Fla. 3d DCA 1964), the appellate court found unconstitutional a local ordinance that imposed a criminal penalty for nonpayment of a ga......
  • Chapman v. Lamm, 79-1550
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • 5 Agosto 1980
    ...than that held by a private litigant. See 30 Fla.Jur. State of Florida § 52 (1974), and cases cited therein; see also Turner v. State, 168 So.2d 192 (Fla.3d DCA 1964), and compare Philpott v. Essex County Welfare Board, 409 U.S. 413, 93 S.Ct. 590, 43 L.Ed.2d 608 (1973). There is a jurisdict......
  • Harris v. Wilson, 93-3445
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • 25 Mayo 1995
    ...fee was denominated a "special assessment", the fee was, in reality, a service charge. 350 So.2d at 580 (citing Turner v. State ex rel. Gruver, 168 So.2d 192 (Fla. 3d DCA 1964)). Genuine issues of material fact exist in the present case regarding whether the special assessment at issue prov......
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