Kentucky Drone Suit Challenges Airspace Rules, Privacy Expectations

January 19, 2016

A lawsuit filed against a man who shot down a drone over his Hillview, Ky., home last summer seeks to resolve what expectations homeowners have to privacy as their property is seen from the air.

The Courier-Journal reports a local judge previously dismissed charges against William Merideth for firing a gun within city limits. Merideth said he feared the drone was spying on his teenage daughters on the back porch.

But now the drone’s owner, John David Boggs, is suing Merideth in federal court, seeking damages for the $1,800 drone.

Boggs also is asking the court to resolve 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.”

The Federal Aviation Administration has sole authority over the national airspace, but Kentucky law gives landowners the right to use force necessary to prevent trespassing. The Supreme Court hasn’t addressed the issue since 1946 when it ruled a North Carolina farmer could assert property rights up to 83 feet in the air and win compensation after low-flying military aircraft disturbed his cows and chickens.

Despite the FAA’s authority, 26 states enacted laws involving drones last year.

In the Kentucky General Assembly, at least two drone bills are pending. One filed by Rep. Linda Belcher, D-Shepherdsville, would prohibit the use of drones for harassment, voyeurism or to aid burglaries.

Boggs says in his suit that he was flying it at about 200 feet – and neither trespassing nor spying on Merideth’s family – when his unmanned aircraft system was taken out two minutes into its flight.

In an exhibit attached to his suit, Boggs presents the last image shot from the drone – a photo of forests, streets and rolling hills.

“At no time was plaintiff capturing video or still images of defendant or anyone on his property,” the suit says.

But Merideth has said he saw the drone about 10 feet over the roof line by his neighbor’s house, looking under a canopy, and later hovering over his own property.

Merideth says he called police on two previous occasions when he saw the drone over his property, but they told him they couldn’t do anything about it. He said that led him to take matters into his own hands.

“At some point,” he said, “Enough is enough.”

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Latest Comments

  • January 21, 2016 at 12:02 pm
    Agent says:
    So we should allow peeping Tom's unfettered access to hove their drones over someone's property and reward them in a suit?
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