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How a photo of a Florida gator swimming in a parking lot became part of federal lawsuit

TAMPA — With more than 1.3 million alligators calling Florida home, perhaps it is inevitable that a gator will occasionally compete with commuters for a good parking space.

Case in point in a federal lawsuit: a photo of a gator confidently swimming in the flooded parking lot of a Tampa business park.

This is litigation, Florida-style.

Photos allegedly showing the swimming gator are exhibits in a federal lawsuit filed Dec. 21 against the owner of a business park near Westchase in Tampa by a tenant who said flooding prevented workers from safely getting to work.

Vital Network Services Inc., a computer and cellular network services company, asks a judge to enforce the termination of its lease at the Tri-County Business Park at 13300 McCormick Drive, which is owned by Tnhyif Reiv Juliet of White Plains, N.Y.

Vital Network said it was forced to send workers home Aug. 3 and 4 after record-breaking rains.

A provision of Vital Network's lease, the lawsuit says, allows it to terminate its lease if the offices are unreachable because of flooding for at least two consecutive hours. The firm decided to end the lease, noting its offices must be staffed 24 hours a day.

"The Tenant determined that in its reasonable discretion, the Premises were rendered inaccessible by the flooding and could not be reached by vehicle," the suit says.

The landlord disagreed, telling the company, "the Premises were accessible to most vehicles."

"We appreciate that storms in the area … were disruptive to the Tenant's business," the property manager said in a letter to Vital Network. "Landlord's position, however, is that Tenant was not inconvenienced more significantly than any other resident or business in the area."

Attorneys for the landlord and tenant could not be reached for comment Wednesday. It is unclear if the defendants will challenge the authenticity of the gator photos, which Vital Network's suit says were taken in front of its offices.

The suit was originally filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court but was later refiled in federal.

Lawsuits involving gators are old hat in Florida courts.

One of the strangest, according to published reports, occurred in 1989 when a Miami man sought permits to keep two 4-foot alligators in his mobile home. Wildlife officers came to his home and became alarmed when the man answered the door with a bloody T-shirt, suffering from several puncture wounds.

Officers found the two alligators in the man's bed. They seized the gators.

"Most people would sneak out of town, but this guy filed a lawsuit to get the gators back," novelist Carl Hiaasen told the Florida Bar in a 2003 talk. "Here's the funny part. Twenty-three months later, it winds up in front of the 3rd District Court of Appeal, which rules directly, bluntly — and sanely, I might add — that there is no constitutional right to consort with prehistoric reptiles, either intimately or not intimately."

Contact William R. Levesque at levesque@tampabay.com. Follow @Times_Levesque.

How a photo of a Florida gator swimming in a parking lot became part of federal lawsuit 12/30/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 30, 2015 8:50pm]
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