Last week, a Kentucky federal judge, U.S. District Judge Thomas B. Russell, threw out the lawsuit against William H. Merideth, also known as the ‘Drone Slayer’, a drone pilot who was sued for the downing of an unmanned aircraft (i.e., drone) using his shotgun. Judge Russell found that the drone owner, John David Boggs, cannot claim federal jurisdiction in this dispute on the grounds that his drone was in Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-controlled airspace when Merideth shot it down because the issue of whether the drone was in protected airspace only arises on the presumption that Merideth would claim that he was defending his property. Judge Russell therefore granted Merideth’s Motion to Dismiss.
“It appears to the court that Boggs not only anticipates Merideth’s potential defense that his conduct was privileged due to a need to protect his property, but he goes one step further and anticipates his own response to that potential defense, that the privilege does not apply because Boggs was flying his unmanned aircraft in federal airspace rather than on Merdith’s property,” said Judge Russell in his opinion. He continued that the potential trespass to chattels claim against Meridith for destroying his drone is a “garden variety state tort claim.”
Boggs made claims that the airspace 200 feet above Bullitt County in Kentucky, where Meridith shot the drone, is subject to the exclusive sovereignty of the federal government and not subject to claims of trespassing by private homeowners. But Meridith never asserted trespassing as a defense, instead sought to dismiss the case on jurisdictional grounds. Judge Russell concluded that even if the drone were subject to federal regulation, the fact remains that the FAA never sought to enforce any regulations in this case, and, at most, the FAA regulations, would constitute ancillary issues in this suit. The heart of this case, said Judge Russell, is one for claims of damages to Bogg’s drone under Kentucky state law.