The case against a Kentucky man who shot down a drone flying over his property has been dismissed by a U.S. District Court, citing “lack of subject matter jurisdiction.”

What does this mean?

To recap, a drone was flown over a piece of private property and allegedly allowed to hover over the area in which the property owner’s daughter may have been sunbathing. The property owner became annoyed and blasted the drone out of the sky with his shotgun (giving rise to the name, “the drone slayer”).

In addition to a criminal case, which was dismissed, the aggrieved drone owner filed a civil suit against the drone slayer in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Kentucky at Louisville.

The plaintiff anticipated that the defendant would raise issues. Arguments of federal pre-emption on the basis that FAA control of air space were also anticipated. The court also dismissed the civil case for lack of jurisdiction noting that the facts of the case didn’t support the existence of “significant federal issues.” The opinion essentially revealed that the court believed the core issue was one of state court property rights and trespass issues such that federal jurisdiction wasn’t appropriate.*

The rule revealed that “…the Court is unpersuaded that the issue of whether Boggs’ [plaintiff’s] unmanned aircraft was flying in federal airspace for purposes of determining whether Meredith’s [defendant’s] actions were privileged is an issue ‘necessary’ to Boggs’ trespass to chattels claim….”

The court cited to another case (Huerta v. Haughwout 2016 WL 3919799 from D. Conn) that involved facts that could only be imagined in the movies—a drone equipped with a pistol and a flamethrower complete with a YouTube video. The Kentucky federal district court held that “using a federal forum to resolve Boggs’ garden variety state tort claim is inappropriate, and the appropriate balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities favors dismissal of Boggs’ trespass to chattels claim for lack of federal jurisdiction…”

Issues to watch in appeals or in other cases that will surely arise from this study are the handling of the competing rights of property owners to be free from unreasonable trespass, and the rights of drone owners not to have their gadgets shot down like scud missiles. State tort law coupled with FAA regulation will be details that will be explored.

*The full opinion can be found at 2017 WL 1088093.


Blogger: John R. McGhee, Jr.