William H. Meredith
The case against the Kentucky man who shot down a drone flying over his property has been dismissed by a US District Court, citing “lack of subject matter jurisdiction.”
In July of 2015, William Meredith of KY shot down a drone belonging to David Boggs as it flew over his property. While Meredith was subsequently arrested on a criminal mischief charge, local judge Rebecca Ward dismissed the charges against him, saying that the drone did indeed represent “an invasion of their privacy,” and that Meredith “had the right to shoot” the drone.
Meredith was quick to capitalize on the ruling, dubbing himself “the droneslayer” and introducing droneslayer t-shirts for sale. Boggs, however, stunned over the dismissal and recognizing a potentially dangerous precedent, decided to appeal the case. While the drone industry awaited a potentially significant ruling – one that would clearly establish who ultimately owns the sky – Meredith asked for the case to be dismissed, with his lawyers arguing that the case’s important was exaggerated:
The Plaintiff, in response to the criminal charges being dismissed against the Defendant, is using the declaratory remedy to attempt to create subject matter jurisdiction – the proverbial mountain out of a molehill. A careful reading of the Complaint reveals the argument to be as follows: The Defendent damaged the Plaintiff’s drone….In reality, this is a Bullitt County small claims court case.
While the question of whether or not a drone flying over private property constitutes trespass is one of great significance to the drone industry, the court did not agree, stating that the case did not meet the requirements of substantiality. “Boggs makes several arguments as to why the alleged federal question is substantial, including that a resolution of the issue will have an impact on federal aviation law, the FAA’s ability to regulate air safety and navigation, and the developing body of law regarding ht eimpact of unmanned aircrafts on privacy and property interests,” reads the Court response. “However, Boggs has not persuaded the Court that resolution of the simple issue of whether Boggs’ unmanned aircraft was flying on Merideth’s property, as opposed to federal property… is ‘significant to the federal system as a whole.'”
The case could become more significant, as states such as Oklahoma consider bills that would hold property owners harmless from damage to drones flying over private property. The issue of flight over private property has the potential to impact not only recreational drone operators, but commercial operators for many applications. While this court declined to take the matter up, sooner or later some court will have to decide.