FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FORT SMITH DISTRICT
[NO. 66FCR-16-1014] HONORABLE J. MICHAEL FITZHUGH, JUDGE
Lisa-Marie Norris, for appellant.
Settle, for appellee.
W. GRUBER, Chief Judge
issue in this case is the constitutionality of several
nuisance ordinances adopted by the City of Fort Smith.
Appellant Noah Steffy appeals from a jury's verdict
finding him guilty of violating the ordinances by failing to
maintain his premises. He does not challenge the sufficiency
of the evidence on appeal but argues that the circuit court
erred in denying his motion to dismiss the case based on its
determination that the ordinances are not unconstitutional.
We affirm his conviction.
March 2016, the neighborhood-services department of the City
of Fort Smith received several complaints from
appellant's neighbors about his property at 2405 High
Street in Fort Smith. One of the neighbors testified at trial
that the front of the house looked like a "junk
yard"; there was trash everywhere; and the grass was up
to your knees, at times "up to 18 inches."
According to this neighbor, the junk included car parts,
tires, wheels, wood, bicycles, old swing sets-"you name
it, it was there." In response to the complaints,
Brandon Haynes, the property-maintenance inspector at the
time, visited the property on March 22, 2016, to inspect the
property and take photos. He testified that there were
numerous violations of the city ordinances, including trash,
debris, open storage of building materials, lumber, tires,
dead limbs, and overgrowth in the yard; sections of fencing
down; mattress bedsprings and a refrigerator in the yard; and
indoor furniture, including a desk, on the front porch. He
testified that the pile of dead limbs was a good place for
rodents, mosquitos, and snakes.
Ruth, the property-maintenance supervisor for the
neighborhood-services department, testified that he inspected
appellant's property on March 31, 2016, and observed
trash and debris; dead limbs on the ground; car tires and a
refrigerator in the backyard; and "just overgrown
conditions." He testified that when it rains or snows,
moisture collects in the tires. He said that it takes very
little for mosquitos to breed in the collected water and that
mosquitos carry the West Nile virus and the Zika virus and
that mosquitos are responsible for causing heartworms in dogs
and other animals. He stated that because tires hold water,
they are a health issue and should be put up and stored away.
Regarding dead limbs, trash, and debris in the yard, Mr. Ruth
testified that they hold moisture and rot; draw termites and
other insects; and create breeding and nesting grounds for
snakes, rodents, and vermin.
Ruth testified that he had spoken with appellant and
attempted to work with him to correct the problem, even
bringing him a lawn mower when appellant indicated he did not
own one. Mr. Ruth offered to meet appellant to walk around
the property and advise him what needed to be done to comply
with the ordinances. He testified that he visited the
property again on May 3, 2016, and saw very little change
from his visit on March 31, 2016. He testified that the
property remained in violation of the nuisance ordinances
when he visited on May 17, 2016, which prompted him to fill
out an affidavit for criminal summons regarding the
August 17, 2016, appellant was found guilty in district court
of failing to care for the premises. He appealed to the
circuit court, where a jury found him guilty and fined him
$510. Before his trial, he filed a motion to dismiss,
asserting that the ordinances he was accused of violating are
unconstitutional because they are vague, arbitrary, and do
not further a compelling, important state interest. The
circuit court found that the vague-and-arbitrary challenge
had no merit. The court's order then stated that
appellant had argued that the ordinance did not "further
a compelling intent" and that the City of Fort Smith
pointed out the interest in the health, safety, and welfare
of its residents. The court found that "the City is
correct, " and it denied appellant's motion.
sole point on appeal is that the ordinances are
unconstitutional because they violate due process and are
void for vagueness. We disagree and affirm appellant's
City Ordinances & Authority
corporations derive their legislative powers from the general
laws of the State. Ark. Const. art 12 § 4; Phillips
v. Town of Oak Grove, 333 Ark. 183, 189, 968 S.W.2d 600,
603 (1998). The State has authorized cities to legislate
under the police power in Arkansas Code Annotated section
14-55-102 (Repl. 1998). That section gives cities the general
power to enact ordinances that "shall seem necessary to
provide for the safety, preserve the health, promote the
prosperity, and improve the morals, order, comfort, and
convenience of such corporations and the inhabitants
thereof." Ark. Code Ann. § 14-55-102 (Repl. 1998).
Under the State's grant of power, cities and incorporated
towns can "[p]revent injury or annoyance within the
limits of the municipal corporation from anything dangerous,
offensive, or unhealthy and cause any nuisance to be abated
within the jurisdiction given the board of health in §
14-262-102[.]" Ark. Code Ann. § 14-54-103. In
addition, and specifically relevant here, Arkansas Code
Annotated section 14-54-901 provides as follows:
Incorporated towns and cities of the first and second class
are empowered to order the owner of lots and other real
property within their towns or cities to cut weeds; to remove
garbage, rubbish, and other unsightly and unsanitary articles
and things upon the property; and to eliminate, fill up, or
remove stagnant pools of water or any other unsanitary thing,
place, or condition which might become a breeding place for
mosquitoes, flies, and germs harmful to the health of the
community, after the town or city has provided therefor by an
ordinance to that effect.
long recognized a city's plenary duty to exercise its
police powers in the interest of the public health and safety
of its inhabitants. Phillips, 333 Ark. at 189, 968
S.W.2d at 603 (citing Springfield v. City of Little
Rock, 226 Ark. 462, 290 S.W.2d 620 (1956)).
underlying nuisance ordinances that appellant was charged
with violating concern the care of premises and provide that
it is unlawful for the owner or occupier ...