A Kentucky man who had his $1,500 hobbyist drone shot out of the sky last year by an agitated neighbor has filed a federal lawsuit in hope of having the courts define the rights of aircraft operators versus property owners with respect to unmanned aerial vehicles.
Attorneys for the drone owner, David Boggs, filed a complaint for declaratory judgment and damages in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky on Monday, nearly six months after the man’s camera-equipped, remote-controlled aircraft was brought down by a shotgun-wielding neighbor, William Merideth.
Police initially cited Mr. Merideth with charges of criminal mischief and wanton endangerment for admittedly firing three blasts from his shotgun after he spotted the drone above his property last July, but Bullitt County Judge Rebecca Ward later dismissed those charges after concluding there had been an invasion of privacy and that Mr. Merideth was in the right.
Mr. Merideth, who has since dubbed himself the “drone slayer” and has marketed T-shirts with that slogan, claimed the drone had been hovering no more than 10 feet above his home when he grabbed for his gun and shot thrice, causing the aircraft to come crashing down.
Data provided by Mr. Boggs, however, including flight path information, suggested the drone was closer to 200 feet off the ground at the time of the incident.
In court documents filed this week, attorneys for the drone operator argue that the courts should capitalize on the incident and use it to decide if a drone is actually capable of committing a trespass in accordance with existing law.
“The tension between private property rights and right to traverse safely the national airspace was resolved during the formative days of manned aviation. The issue is now arising in the context of unmanned aircraft, also known as ‘drones,’ ” attorney Thomas Gleason wrote. “Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment from this court to resolve that tension and define clearly the rights of aircraft operators and property owners.”
“Plaintiff’s right to relief as well as the defendant’s defenses, will necessarily require resolution of a substantial question of federal law, to wit, the boundaries of the airspace surrounding real property, the reasonable expectation of privacy as viewed from the air and the right to damage or destroy an aircraft in-flight, in relation to the exclusive federal regulation and protection of air safety, air navigation and control over the national airspace,” the lawyer added.
Mr. Boggs is seeking declaratory judgment from federal court that would acknowledge his drone’s flight path didn’t constitute a trespass and compensation in the amount of the damage aircraft, plus expenses.