- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2016

William Merideth, the self-proclaimed “drone slayer” who shot down an unmanned aircraft as it hovered over his Kentucky home last June, has asked a District Court judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the owner of the drone, David Boggs.

Attorneys for Mr. Merideth argue in a document filed in the Western District of Kentucky on Thursday that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction with respect to a January 2016 complaint for declaratory judgment and damages brought by Mr. Boggs.

Mr. Boggs was operating his $1,500 hobbyist drone in Bullitt County last June when Mr. Merideth said it came within 10 feet of his home and, according to him, constituted a trespass. Mr. Merideth admittedly fired at the drone three times with his shotgun, destroying the aircraft.

As the incident made waves across the country, Mr. Merideth began marketing merchandise in which he referred to himself as the “drone slayer.”

Police initially charged the Kentuckian with criminal mischief and wanton endangerment, but Bullitt County Judge Rebecca Ward eventually concluded the drone flight had constituted an invasion of privacy and dismissed all charges against Mr. Merideth. In turn, Mr. Boggs’ attorneys filed a federal claim in January asking the court to award him $1,500 for the damaged drone, as well as to make a determination as to the rights of aircraft operators versus property owners.

“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 in the January filing. “Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment from this court to resolve that tension and define clearly the rights of aircraft operators and property owners.”

In response to the suit, Mr. Merideth’s attorneys said in a motion to dismiss last week that the drone owner’s legal team is seeking to have the federal court invalidate Kentucky’s state trespass laws.

“A careful reading of the Complaint reveals the argument to be as follows,” wrote attorneys for Mr. Merideth. “The Defendant damaged the Plaintiff’s drone. The Plaintiff anticipates that the Defendant will try and argue that he was justified in shooting the drone pursuant to Kentucky state trespass laws and KRS 503.080,” the state’s protection of property statute.

“To prevent the Defendant from raising that defense, the Plaintiff wants this court to circumvent the argument and declare that there is no state law trespass. This is an improper use of 28 U.S.C. 2201,” the attorneys added, referring to the federal law that determines how the courts can make declaratory judgments.

Mr. Meredith’s attorneys said the drone owner’s demands are better suited for Bullitt County small claims court.

“Even if this court were to declare that the Plaintiff’s drone were somehow within exclusively federally controlled airspace, that would not necessarily preclude Kentucky statutory law related to the protection of a person’s property from also applying — especially where, as here, the federal law is silent. Further, since the actions complained of herein, the FAA has promulgated new rules governing the use of drones. As such, a declaration in this case will not clarify the legal relations of the parties going forward under the current regulations,” the attorneys wrote.

Mr. Bogg’s legal team has until March 28 to respond to the defense’s motion, Ars Technica reported this week.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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