Taking Out The Trash: Criminal and Civil Liability Under Florida’s Litter Law

Occasionally when you are driving in Florida, you can see a large earthen creation that does not look like it belongs in our state.  Trash mounds stick out in Florida.  In fact, some of them are given names like Mount Trashmore.  Mount Trashmore has even made the List of Florida’s Highest Points.  These “trash mountains” continue to be an economic and environmental concern, especially with the increasing population of certain areas.

The accumulation, collection and disposal of trash is a multi-million dollar industry in Florida. As you can image, there are some of those who refuse to pay the cost associated with properly disposing of trash and instead dump the material illegally.  This can present significant problems for municipalities and private land owners in Florida.  In an effort to combat improper and illegal trash dumping, the Florida Legislature enacted the Florida Litter Law which can be found at 403.413, Florida Statutes.  This blog post discusses the basic considerations regarding illegal dumping in Florida.

The statute defines “Litter” as any garbage; rubbish; trash; refuse; can; bottle; box; container; paper; tobacco product; tire; appliance; mechanical equipment or part; building or construction material; tool; machinery; wood; motor vehicle or motor vehicle part; vessel; aircraft; farm machinery or equipment; sludge from a waste treatment facility, water supply treatment plant, or air pollution control facility; or substance in any form resulting from domestic, industrial, commercial, mining, agricultural, or governmental operations.  As you can see, the statute is very broad and encompasses a wide range of waste material.   It is the responsibility of the local governing body of a county or a municipality to determine the training and qualifications of any employee of the county or municipality to enforce the provisions of Florida’s Litter Law.  Regular law enforcement officers are also responsible for enforcement of Florida’s Litter Law.

Unless otherwise authorized by law or permit, it is unlawful for anyone to dump litter in the following locations:

  1. In or on any public highway, road, street, alley, or thoroughfare, including any portion of the right-of-way, or any other public lands, except in containers or areas lawfully provided. When any litter is thrown or discarded from a motor vehicle, the operator or owner of the motor vehicle, or both, shall be deemed to have violated the statute;
  2. In or on any freshwater lake, river, canal, or stream or tidal or coastal water of the state, including canals. When any litter is thrown or discarded from a boat, the operator or owner of the boat, or both, shall be deemed to have violated the statute; or
  3. In or on any private property, unless prior consent of the owner has been given and unless the dumping of such litter by such person will not cause a public nuisance or otherwise be in violation of any other state or local law, rule, or regulation.

As with most penalties, the severity of the penalty depends on the magnitude of the violation.  Florida’s Litter Law increases the penalty based on the amount of illegal trash dumping.  Any person who dumps litter in an amount not exceeding 15 pounds in weight or 27 cubic feet in volume and not for commercial purposes is guilty of a noncriminal infraction, punishable by a civil penalty of $100, from which $50 shall be deposited into the Solid Waste Management Trust Fund to be used for the solid waste management grant program pursuant to s. 403.7095. In addition, the court may require the violator to pick up litter or perform other labor commensurate with the offense committed.

When the amount dumped increases, so does the corresponding penalty.  Any person who dumps litter in an amount exceeding 15 pounds in weight or 27 cubic feet in volume, but not exceeding 500 pounds in weight or 100 cubic feet in volume and not for commercial purposes is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree. In addition, the court shall require the violator to pick up litter or perform other community service commensurate with the offense committed. Further, if the violation involves the use of a motor vehicle, upon a finding of guilt the court shall forward a record of the finding to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, which shall record a penalty of three points on the violator’s driver license.

Finally, any person who dumps litter in an amount exceeding 500 pounds in weight or 100 cubic feet in volume or in any quantity for commercial purposes, or dumps litter which is a hazardous waste is guilty of a felony of the third degree. In addition, the court may order the violator to:

  1.  Remove or render harmless the litter that was dumped;
  2. Repair or restore property damaged by, or pay damages for any damage arising out of the dumping; or
  3. Perform public service relating to the removal of litter dumped or to the restoration of an area polluted by litter dumped.

A court may enter an injunction preventing illegal dumping.  Even more, a motor vehicle, vessel, aircraft, container, crane, winch, or machine used to dump litter that exceeds 500 pounds in weight or 100 cubic feet in volume is declared contraband and is subject to seizure and forfeiture.

The Legislature did not stop there.  Florida’s Litter Law creates a civil private right of action for the Florida property owner.  If a person suffers damages arising out illegal dumping that is punishable as a felony, a court in a civil action for the damages, shall order the person to pay the injured property owner threefold the actual damages or $200, whichever amount is greater. In addition, the court shall order the person to pay the property owner’s court costs and attorney’s fees. A final judgment entered in a criminal proceeding against a defendant under Florida’s Litter Law estops a defendant from asserting any issue in a subsequent civil action which he or she would be estopped from asserting if such judgment were rendered in the civil action unless the criminal judgment was based upon a plea of no contest or nolo contendere.

In the criminal trial of a person charged with violating Florida’s Litter Law, the state does not have the burden of proving that the person did not have the right or authority to dump the litter or raw human waste or that litter or raw human waste dumped on private property causes a public nuisance.  The defendant has the burden of proving that he or she had authority to dump the litter or raw human waste and that the litter or raw human waste dumped does not cause a public nuisance.  For the health, safety and welfare of the people of Florida, the control of illegal dumping is paramount to maintaining a healthy environment and preserving the great resources of Florida for generations to come.

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