Drone operator sues Bullitt County man who shot it down

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A U.S. district judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a man whose drone was shot down over a Bullitt County residence.

In July 2015, John David Boggs was flying his drone over the Hillview home of 47-year-old William Merideth, when Merideth says he shot the drone down with a shotgun.

"Well, I came out and it was down by the neighbor's house, about 10 feet off the ground, looking under their canopy that they've got in their back yard," Merideth said. "I went and got my shotgun and I said, 'I'm not going to do anything unless it's directly over my property.'"

That moment soon arrived, he said.

"Within a minute or so, here it came," he said. "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 added.

Merideth was arrested and charged with criminal mischief and wanton endangerment for shooting down the $1,500 drone, but those charges were later dismissed.

Merideth said he felt his privacy rights were violated.

"He didn’t just fly over," he said. "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."

"You know, when you’re in your own property, within a six-foot privacy fence, you have the expectation of privacy," he said. "We don't know if he was looking at the girls. We don’t know if he was looking for something to steal. To me, it was the same as trespassing."

But Boggs disputed Merideth's claims, arguing that he did not use the drone to invade anyone's privacy or look under any canopy.

"The bottom line is we didn't do it," Boggs said in an interview with WDRB. "We didn't hover, we didn't go down, we didn't do any of that. There's no way I'm going to fly below the trees the second day I owned it."

On Jan. 4, 2016, Boggs filed a federal lawsuit demanding that Merideth pay for the cost of the drone -- and that the government clarify federal law related to the operation of drones.

Specifically, the lawsuit asked the federal government to rule on emerging issues related to how a "drone" is defined, as well the relationship between drones, airspace boundaries, privacy rights, and the laws against trespass.

Boggs says he bought the drone just a few days before it was shot down. He said he was planning on using it to shoot video of his kids riding motocross. He says Sunday was a practice session.

"There's no other explanation other than the truth," Boggs said.

Video that Boggs claims shows the flight path an altitude of the drone does not corroborate Merideth's claim that the drone descended to an altitude of just 10 feet from the ground.

"We are now 193 feet above the ground," Boggs described as he showed us the flight path. "This area here is the world-famous drone slayer home, and this is a neighbor's home, and our friends live over here, and over here, and over here. You will see now that we did not go below this altitude -- we even went higher -- nor did we hover over their house to look in. And for sure didn't descend down to no 10 feet, or look under someone's canopy, or at somebody's daughter."

The track does show that the drone hovered for around 30 seconds near Merideth’s home but was at an altitude in excess of 200 feet.

Boggs' lawsuit pitted his claim to airspace rights against Merideth's claim to privacy rights -- and asked the federal government to settle the matter.

"This turn of events has set the stage for a conflict between state-based claims of trespass of property, invasion of privacy, and trespass to chattles and longstanding exclusive federal jurisdiction over the national airspace and the protection of air safety," the lawsuit says. "The tension between private property rights and right to traverse safely the national airspace was resolved during the formative days of manned aviation. The issue is now arising in the context of unmanned aircraft, also known as 'drones.'"

Specifically, the suit requested that the court issue a declaratory judgment recognizing the drone as an "aircraft," defined by federal law, and finding that any unmanned aircraft operating in what the law calls "navigable airspace" does not violate a homeowner's "reasonable expectation of privacy" and thus cannot be shot down.

The suit went on to criticize Merideth, arguing that he "vows to do it again," based on a cover photo that appears on Merideth's Facebook page. The cover photo reads, in capital letters, "NOT ONLY DID I DO IT. BUT I MEANT TO DO IT. AND I'D DO IT AGAIN." The profile picture on the Facebook page also bears the caption "THE DRONE SLAYER." 

Additionally, the lawsuit included images of t-shirts the suit alleges were sold by Merideth. The t-shirt bears the words "Team Willie" on the front. The back contains the likeness of a drone in crosshairs with the words, "#DRONESLAYER" and "We the People... have had enough!" The lawsuit alleged that, through these actions, Meredith "implicitly encouraged others to engage in the same conduct."

In addition to the declaratory judgment, the lawsuit asked that the court require Merideth to pay Boggs, "such equitable relief as it deems appropriate, including monetary damages, prejudgment interest, and the cost of filing this action."

But on March 21, Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge of the United States District Court, dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice based on a lack of jurisdiction.

"Again, as the court already discussed above, the FAA is not involved in this case, nor is the Court convinced that a federal question, if one exists in these hypothetical actions, ins 'important' to the federal government," Russell wrote in his opinion on the case.

The fact that the lawsuit was dismissed "with prejudice" means that it cannot be brought in that court again.

WDRB News left a message with Boggs' attorneys Friday morning to give them an opportunity to comment. As of Friday afternoon, they had not responded.

Previous stories:

Hillview man arrested for shooting down drone; cites right to privacy

UPDATE: Drone owner disputes shooter's story; produces video he claims shows flight path

Ky. lawmaker proposes drone legislation hoping to define the rules

Judge dismisses charges for man who shot down drone

Drone operator sues Bullitt County man who shot it down

Bullitt Co. man asks federal judge for clarity after his drone is shot down

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