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In Boggs v. Merideth, 2017 WL 1088093 (W.D. Ky. 2017), Boggs filed a complaint seeking several declaratory judgments and an award of $1,500 for the damage his drone sustained when Merideth shot it from the air over Merideth’s private property. The court dismissed Boggs’ complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

The federal courts have only limited jurisdiction, and jurisdiction in this case hinged on whether Boggs had adequately shown that his case constituted a federal question. Boggs chose to pursue this designation based on the theory that his state law claims implicated significant federal issues. Boggs argued that his complaint involved significant federal issues because it raised the question of the boundaries of federal versus private airspace.

The court ruled that Boggs failed to demonstrate that his requested declaratory judgment and state law trespass to chattels claim constituted a federal question. The primary basis for the court’s ruling was that Boggs failed to show that the federal question involved was “substantial.”

In determining substantiality, the court stated that Boggs had not adequately shown that the question of whether his drone was flying on federal or private property was “significant to the federal system as a whole.” Furthermore, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, “at most, would constitute ancillary issues in this case, in which the heart of Boggs’ claim is one for damage to his unmanned aircraft under Kentucky state law.”

The court declined to reach the substance of the case and instead dismissed on a procedural basis. This means that it is still unclear from a federal level whether a drone flight over private property constitutes a trespass, and at what height it becomes acceptable.

The facts 

David Boggs, a drone hobbyist, was allegedly flying his drone over private property belonging to his neighbor, William Merideth. Merideth said he believed the drone was spying on his daughter, so he decided to bring down the drone using his shotgun.

Boggs brought this action in federal court in an attempt to recoup the cost associated with Merideth’s destruction of his drone. Boggs sought a declaratory judgment essentially stating that a drone operating in navigable airspace is in the “exclusive jurisdiction of the United States,” that Boggs was operating in this airspace rather than on Merideth’s property, that Boggs did not violate Merideth’s privacy, and that a property owner cannot shoot at a drone in the given situation. Boggs also claimed a trespass to chattels for damage to his drone.

Procedural History 

Boggs filed his claims in federal district court under the theory that he was operating his drone in navigable airspace, and that federal jurisdiction would apply. Merideth filed a motion to dismiss the claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, asserting that federal jurisdiction was not implicated in the matter.

Police initially charged Merideth with criminal mischief and wanton endangerment for shooting down the drone, but these charges were dismissed when a judge “concluded the drone flight had constituted an invasion of privacy.”

Decision Points 

The court’s decision in Boggs v. Merideth had the potential to provide clarification at the federal level about the scope of FAA regulatory enforcement authority and the application of the law to drone use. The court, however, failed to reach the substance of the complaint, instead dismissing the case based on a lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

The court stated that plaintiff would need to show that his state law claims involved a significant federal issue that is:

  1. Necessarily raised;
  2. Actually disputed;
  3. Substantial; and
  4. Capable of resolution in federal court without disrupting the federal-state balance approved by Congress.

The court considered four factors in determining the question of substantiality:

  1. Whether the case includes a federal agency, and particularly, whether that agency’s compliance with the federal statute is in dispute;
  2. Whether the federal question is important;
  3. Whether a decision on the federal question will resolve the case; and
  4. Whether a decision as to the federal question will control numerous other cases.

The court ruled that Boggs’s state law trespass to chattels claim failed all four “significant federal issue” factors listed above. Most importantly, the court found that Boggs failed to show that deciding this claim was substantial. The court said that potentially having to address “the boundaries of federal airspace” if Merideth brought a privilege defense and Boggs countered that he was flying in federal airspace was not sufficiently substantial. While the court recognizes in its ruling that “the FAA certainly has an interest in enforcing its regulations governing federal airspace, its interest in applying those regulations in the context of a state law tort claim for trespass to chattels is limited or nonexistent.” Furthermore, the outcome of this state law claim will have no effect on the federal government’s ability to regulate drones indicating its limited importance to the federal government.

The court states that Boggs’s request for declaratory judgment similarly fails to indicate federal jurisdiction as whether Boggs’s drone was on federal or private property is still not a substantial issue.

The case was dismissed after the court determined that neither the state law trespass to chattels claim nor the request for declaratory judgment represented substantial issues qualifying as federal questions.

Relevant Science 

An unmanned aircraft (“drone”) is defined by FAA as “an aircraft that is operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft,” namely without a human operator on board (Public Law 112-95, Section 331(8)). A drone is part of an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) that also includes an outside controller capable of remotely communicating with the drone. The FAA projects growth in annual UAS sales from $1.9 million in 2016 to $4.3 million by 2020.

Drones are operated by both commercial enterprises and hobbyists for a wide range of purposes from photography to emergency response to agricultural analyses. Consumer drones commonly carry cameras and are capable of recording images and other information indicating potential privacy issues associated with their use over or near private property.


Mr. Boggs is represented by James E. Mackler, William L. Campbell, and Thomas C. Gleason of Frost Brown Todd LLC. Mr. Merideth is represented by D. Chad McCoy of McCoy & Hiestand, PLC.


The complaint was dismissed on March 21, 2017 for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. No appeal has been filed at this time.

Relevant Experts 

Mary “Missy” Cummings, PhD, is Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Duke University and the Director of the Humans and Autonomy Laboratory and Duke Robotics. Her research interests include human-unmanned vehicle interaction, human-autonomous system collaboration, and the ethical and social impact of technology.

Primary Author 
Halley Petersen, JD Candidate
Jana Zaidan, JD Candidate; Michael Clamann, PhD, CHFP
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