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.