HOA drops lawsuit against airboat company

Article Courtesy of The Ledger

By John Chambliss

Published June 5, 2018


LAKELAND — After four years of wrangling in and out of the courts, a homeowners association has dropped its case against an airboat company over whether it can conduct tours on Lake Hamilton. “I’m glad it’s over with,” said Bonnie Neidlinger, co-owner of Captain Fred’s Airboat Nature Tours.

“We try to be good neighbors.” The Lake Hamilton Lakeshore Owners Association dropped its appeal in June, seven months after Circuit Judge Steven Selph ruled in a summary judgement that the homeowners association lacked standing to bring the action against the company, adding that the “facts did not demonstrate a nuisance.”

Before the ruling, Tom Saunders, the lawyer for Captain Fred’s, argued before Selph that the homeowners association had no standing to bring a common law nuisance claim “in the name of a company formed for the purpose of bringing” this lawsuit.


“Defendant is the only commercial airboat company operating on Lake Hamilton and Plaintiff targets this one operation even though Plaintiff admits recreational airboats are just as noisy,” Saunders wrote.

It was the second time the homeowners association had appealed a ruling. In 2015, the Lakeland-based 2nd District Court of Appeal overturned a 2014 decision by Circuit Judge John Radabaugh. Radabaugh ruled that he didn’t intend to interfere with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s authority. He wrote that the airboats cannot be a nuisance because they were authorized by law.

But a three-judge panel on the appeals court disagreed in 2015. Appellate Judge Daryl Casaneuva wrote that there can still be a nuisance despite the fact it is legal to operate the airboats.

The homeowners association continued to move forward with its nuisance complaint after the ruling, but Doug Lockwood, a lawyer for the homeowners, said Captain Fred’s became more cognizant of the complaints.

“Primarily, it was not as big of an issue as previously,” Lockwood said. “They’ve been a better neighbor.”

Lake Region Audobon became involved in the conflict when some of the neighbors complained about an airboat coming too close to an eagle’s nest.

The eagle’s habitat was disrupted when the boat sped away after people viewed the nest from a close distance, said Reinier Munguia, president of Lake Region Audubon.

That nest is now gone, but a new one has been built close to the previous one, he said.

Located on Crump Road, Captain Fred’s Airboat Nature Tours has been on Lake Hamilton for eight years. Before moving to Lake Hamilton, the company was located on Lake Rosalie east of Lake Wales. The company left after the owner sold the property it leased.

Neidlinger said she hopes residents will come to them with any issues they may have in the future.

“We feel like a lot of people enjoy our boats,” she said.