A lawsuit filed over a shot-down drone in Kentucky has legal implications that could set precedent for U.S. laws regarding a homeowner’s right to privacy and the federal government’s exclusive sovereignty rights to the skies. A father’s concern that a drone was peeking at his sunbathing daughter may now lead to courts being forced to address a thorny issue – who owns, and has a right to protect, the air around our homes?
Reports USA Today on Jan. 16: “The Supreme Court hasn’t addressed the issue since 1946 when it ruled that a North Carolina farmer could assert property rights up to 83 feet in the air — and win compensation for military aircraft that were flying so low they were disturbing his cows and chickens.”
William Merideth, a 47-year-old man who has since embraced his notoriety and dubbed himself the “Drone Slayer,” used a shotgun last July to blast a DJI Phantom 3 Pro drone out of the air. The drone’s owner, John David Boggs, said he was flying his drone at approximately 200 feet in the air when it was taken out. Boggs claims it was nowhere near Meredith’s property.
“At no time was plaintiff capturing video or still images of defendant or anyone on his property,” the suit says. Merideth however tells a different story. “Willie,” as he is known, said that on two previous occasions he saw the drone, a $1,800 piece of equipment outfitted with a 4K video camera that also takes 12 megapixel photos, hovering near his home. Twice he called up police, and twice he was told they couldn’t do anything about it.
The third time, Meredith says Boggs’ drone was stationary in the air under his neighbor’s eaves, ten feet off his roofline. When the drone turned and buzzed over to Merideth’s property, he blasted it.
According to NBC News, Boggs and three other men confronted Merideth, asking him if he shot their drone down. He admitted he did, and then said he told the men to stay off his property or he would use force against them. “I had my 40mm Glock on me and they started toward me and I told them, ‘If you cross my sidewalk, there’s gonna be another shooting,’” Merideth said at the time.
Hillview Police arrested Merideth and charged him with “wanton endangerment and criminal mischief” because he fired a gun in the city limits. However, a judge later dismissed the charges, setting up the lawsuit filed in federal court.
“I think it’s credible testimony that his drone was hovering from anywhere, for two or three times over these people’s property, that it was an invasion of their privacy and that they had the right to shoot this drone,” Bullitt County Judge Rebecca Ward said last October.
Merideth said the ruling “vindicated” him. “I feel good. I feel vindicated. I was being watched. It was an invasion of privacy and I wouldn’t have put up with it no more,” he said, adding that he has a 16-year-old daughter who likes to lay out by the pool and another younger daughter who does the same.
“Sunday afternoon, the kids – my girls – were out on the back deck, and the neighbors were out in their yard,” Merideth said last August. “And they come in and said, ‘Dad, there’s a drone out here, flying over everybody’s yard.’ It was hovering over top of my property, and I shot it out of the sky. I didn’t shoot across the road, I didn’t shoot across my neighbor’s fences. I shot directly into the air. He didn’t just fly over. If he had been moving and just kept moving, that would have been one thing, but when he come directly over our heads, and just hovered there, I felt like I had the right.”
The courts agreed, but Boggs immediately said he would push the case to higher courts. “I don’t think that the court looked at what really took place here,” Boggs said after Judge Ward ruled against him. “I’m dumbfounded. I really am. This is a victory for him today, I guess. But it’s far from over.”
The FAA possesses sole authority over the air, while Kentucky state law says homeowners have the legal right to use force against perceived trespassers. But can someone or something trespass in the air around our homes? Boggs’ lawsuit, filed on Jan. 4, now specifically asks 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.” He says he filed the appeal to win “clarity to protect the right to fly responsibly without fear of being shot at.”
Where do you fall on this issue? Does Bogg’s lawsuit over his shot-down drone have merit?