and Video Courtesy of First Coast News
By Andrew Pantazi
Published February 26, 2020
Larry Murphree is a Jacksonville Air Force veteran
who wants to put a flag in a flower pot. His homeowners association
wouldn’t let him.
A nine-year battle between a flag-wielding veteran
and a zealous homeowners association will reach its denouement Monday as
the two sides — as bitterly divided as when they began — meet in court
for a two-day trial.
The fight started in the summer of 2011 when Larry
Murphree, a former U.S. Air Force air traffic controller, began defying
his homeowners association’s rules by flying a 12-inch by 17-inch flag
in a flower pot by his front door. He began incurring a $100-a-day fine,
which reached $1,000.
In 2012, he filed a federal lawsuit against The Tides Condominium at
Sweetwater by Del Webb Master Homeowners’ Association, which Murphree,
79, and the association settled, with the association paying Murphree
$4,000 for legal fees and waiving the $1,000 in fines it had levied
against him. The association and Murphree also agreed he could display a
flag, as long as his display complied with association rules and as long
as association rules complied with state law.
An attorney for the condo association didn’t return a
request for comment Friday.
In exchange, Murphree agreed “not to make any disparaging statements”
about the homeowners association.
In 2013, the association again began charging Murphree a $100-a-day
fine, this time because of a new rule about flower pots. The condo
association allowed flags to be displayed, the rules said, but not in
flower pots. In response, Murphree again filed a federal lawsuit.
Murphree cited the federal Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of
2005, which made it illegal for condominium associations to ban the
display of the Stars and Stripes.
However, a federal judge dismissed Murphree’s federal lawsuit in 2014,
saying that law didn’t give him the ability to sue to enforce the law.
That judge told Murphree that his claims would be be “best addressed by
the state courts.”
The U.S. Congress, as it turns out, is not the only legislative body in
this country concerned that condominium associations might oppose the
finer points of flag appreciation. The Florida Legislature, clearly
stated in statute 718.113, subsection 4, says: “Any unit owner may
display one portable, removable United States flag.”
But before he could file suit against the condo association, the
association filed suit against him in 2014, demanding that he be gagged
from disparaging the association.
He countersued, demanding $1 million in damages.
Murphree’s disdain for the association was evident in his countersuit:
“The lawsuit mystically assumes that because the violation of the new
regulation is entitled ‘a flower pot regulation’ that this court will
somehow believe that it is not the same exact items that were the
subject of the Mutual Settlement and Release of Present Claims.”
Murphree said he no longer lives at the condo association, having sold
it after the condo association placed a lien on it. He said all the
money he’s raised from supporters, which he estimated at $10,000, has
gone back into his lawsuit.
“I’m going to stand up for the flag,” he said. “They don’t like losing.
It got ridiculous. I’ve lost my health. I spent my life savings on this
thing. But I feel like if you believe in something and you had an
opportunity to stand for something and you didn’t do it, you’d have a
very large regret for the rest of you’re life. My wife says can you go
on a cruise, and I say no.”
He said the judge told them they’ll start Monday in a small courtroom,
but Murphree expects his supporters to come by the dozens and then
they’ll move to a larger courtroom.
At his new home in the Cascades World Golf Village, he said he has seven
flags out front.