Sarah Nilsson, JD, PhD, MAS
Sarah Nilsson, JD, PhD, MAS

Drone litigation


June 2017 - The first legal challenge to a local drone ordinance, in US District Court for Boston, Mass.

Dr. Michael Singer vs. City of Newton, MA.

Judge overturns local law that effectively banned drones over small town - September 2017 


(Download court documents below)

1- Singer-v-Newton-Complaint.pdf
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2 - Singer-v-Newton-Citys-Answer.pdf
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3 - Singer-v-Newton-Singers-Motion-Summa[...]
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4 - Singer-v-Newton-Citys-Motion-Summary[...]
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5 - Singer-v-Newton-Citys-Memo-Summary-J[...]
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6 - Singer-v-Newton-Singers-Response-to-[...]
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John Taylor has a second case pending before the same court, challenging all of Part 101 and the FAA's position that model aircraft are legally considered aircraft. 

That case just finished the briefing stage, and will soon be set for oral argument.

Below you can download the main briefs, namely Taylor's initial brief, the FAA's reply, and Taylor's answer (note that the case has been consolidated with EPIC's ridiculous attempt to challenge Part 107 because it didn't include privacy rules, which is not the FAA's job to do - please see bottom of page for EPIC's brief).

Taylor 101 Case Taylor Brief.pdf
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Taylor 101 Case FAA Reply.pdf
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Taylor 101 Case Taylor Answer Brief.pdf
Adobe Acrobat document [752.4 KB]

July 3, 2017

Federal Court Issues Final Order: FAA Drone Hobby Registry Is - For Now - Officially Dead

Just over six weeks ago, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a stunning reversal of the Federal Aviation Administration's drone hobby registration rule in a case brought by model aircraft enthusiast and lawyer, John A. Taylor.  The Court determined in that case that the FAA's rule, as it applies to model aircraft, "directly violates [a] clear statutory prohibition."  That prohibition is contained in a law passed by Congress, known as Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. The Court's decision at the time, however, was not final and the FAA's registry remained in effect.  The Court gave the US Department of Justice - the agency that represented the FAA in the case - time to decide whether it wanted to appeal the decision or request a rehearing before the full Court.

Today, the Court issued its final order implementing its May 19 decision to "vacate the Registration Rule to the extent it applies to model aircraft."  This means that the FAA's drone registry - at least for now - is officially dead.  A request to the FAA for information on what will happen to the registry and whether fees collected by the illegal registration requirement will be refunded in light of the Court's decision was not immediately responded to.  This article will be updated with any additional information.

The Court's reversal of the FAA's registration rule may not be the final word on whether hobbyists will be required to register their drones in the future.  At least one bill pending before Congress would reinstitute the registration requirement for model aicraft flyers.

July 5, 2017

Registration Deletion

The FAA is providing the following updated information regarding the Small UAS Registration and Marking interim final rule as a result of a recent decision (PDF) by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit regarding the small UAS registration program.

The court's decision invalidated the registration requirement as it applies to certain model aircraft that meet the definitional and operational requirements provided in section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act (PDF). Owners of model aircraft which are operated in compliance with section 336 are not required to register. Owners of all other small unmanned aircraft, including newly-purchased unmanned aircraft not operated exclusively in compliance with section 336, remain subject to the registration requirement. The FAA continues to encourage voluntary registration for all owners of small unmanned aircraft.

The FAA is working on a final rule with respect to registration and marking that will implement the court's decision. In the meantime, if you are an owner operating exclusively in compliance with section 336 and you wish to delete your registration and receive a refund of your registration fee, you may do so by accessing a registration deletion and self-certification form (PDF) and mailing it to the FAA at the address designated on the form. Owners who already received a refund during the initial grace period are not eligible to receive a refund. This form has been submitted to the Office of Management and Budget for approval of the information collection.


July 7, 2017

FAA Issuing Refunds For Drone Registration Fee

recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit regarding the small UAS registration program left a lot of people wondering about one thing: Where’s that $5 I spent on the registration going? All in all, the FAA collected somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million through more than 820,000 registrations, so it was a valid question to ask.



May 24, 2017 - my interview on NPR Phoenix on KJZZ

May 24, 2017 - Court’s ruling on hobby drone registration creates new questions


May 19, 2017 - Federal Appeals Court Voids FAA Registration Rule For Model Aircraft - John Goglia


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Pituch v. Pi Kappa Phi - Los Angeles Superior Court - CA

USC’s Pi Kappa Phi Sued After Drone Filming Party Falls And Ruins Chick’s Face

Party guest sues fraternity over falling drone 

- plaintiff Alina Pituch suffered severe injuries to back of head, forehead, and left eye at a USC fraternity party when a drone fell and hit her

- this happened in the back yard of the frat house on October 3, 2015

- operator (Perfect Event Inc.) and fraternity (Pi Kappa Phi) sued on September 2016 for negligence and premises liability



Ellis v. Billcliff - Rockingham Superior Court - NH

Wedding drone crash leads to guests’ lawsuit

Quadcopter crashes into wedding guests, wedding guests sue

- December 2016, two wedding guests (Kneena Ellis and Kelly Eaton) are suing groom (Barry Billcliff) and Searles Castle (venue) over drone injury caused by another guest, even though groom was not operating the drone himself

- Ellis suffered a laceration requiring more than 20 stitches and a concussion

- Eaton suffered orbital and nose fractures, concussion

- they both claim they sufferent permanent physical and emotional injury and are suing for negligence

- venue claimed they did not grant permission to have Billcliff fly a drone 



Doe v. Skinner - Seattle Municipal Court - WA

Man convicted in drone crash that injured woman during Seattle’s Pride Parade

Pilot of drone that struck woman at Pride Parade gets 30 days in jail

- June 28, 2015, drone operated by Paul M. Skinner (owner of an aerial photography company) hit building and fell on a 25-year old woman watching Pride Parade in Seattle causing concussion

- January 2017, criminal conviction for reckless endangerment (gross misdemeanor)

- 30 days in jail and $500 fine

- civil suit pending


June 9, 2016 - Man who built gun drone, flamethrower drone argues FAA cannot regulate him

The pro bono attorney designated by the judge to represent the Haughwouts is Mario Cerame of the Randazza Legal Group. Mr. Cerame said that at the heart of his challenge to FAA authority is the FAA’s definition of “aircraft” which he contends “is crazy” and would cover any contrivance that flies, including “paper airplanes, bullets and flags.” At a hearing in March, Judge Jeffrey Meyer ordered the parties to further support their arguments regarding FAA authority over small drones. Oral argument is set for July 6 at 10 am at the federal court house in New Haven. Mr. Cerame admits that for his clients to win, the Judge would have to determine that the FAA’s position was “obviously wrong.”

Huerta v. Haughwout

February 17, 2016 - TechFreedom v. FAA - filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia arguing that the UAS registration rules put in place in December 2015 violate a federal law that prohibits the FAA from regulating recreational UAS. (read the complaint below)

Adobe Acrobat document [186.5 KB]

January 20, 2016 - L.A. City Attorney files first criminal charges under new drone ordinance

The ordinance from September, 2015 is attached below - and it shows almost verbatim FAA language...and looking at the FAA's field preemption seems to conflict...(see FAA's Dec 17, 2015 Fact Sheet)

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January 4, 2016 - First lawsuit to clarify the rights of UAS operators and property owners filed in Federal Court

Kentucky resident David Boggs filed a suit in the United States District Court of Western Kentucky asking the court to "define clearly the rights of aircraft operators and property owners" as they relate to unmanned aircraft. 

The lawsuit stems from an incident last year that gained national media attention in which a Hillview, Kentucky resident shot down an unmanned aircraft being flown by Boggs, claiming that the UAS had trespassed and invaded his privacy.

Although the shooter initially faced criminal charges, those charges were eventually dismissed by a state court judge. On October 26, 2015, Kentucky District Court Judge Rebecca Ward dismissed the criminal charges, saying that "he had a right to shoot" at the aircraft. Boggs, on the other hand, claimed that he was approximately 200 feet above the property at the time it was shot down and did not view or record the defendant's property.

James Mackler , Boggs' legal counsel said: "The tension between private property rights and the freedom to use the national airspace is important to both the unmanned aircraft industry and the general public. Property owners deserve to be free from harassment and invasion of their privacy. Likewise, aircraft operators need to know the boundaries in which they can legally operate without risk of being shot down. This lawsuit will give clarity to everyone."


March 3, 2016 - Memo in support of motion to dismiss


Download the complaint below and memo and watch the video too

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Memo in support of motion to dismiss.pdf
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January 4, 2016 - FAA Sued in Federal Court over UAS Registration Rules

The lawsuit, challenging the FAA registration of small UAS that applies to hobby and recreational users as being illegal, was filed in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on December 24, 2015 by a model aircraft enthusiast, Maryland resident, and insurance attorney, John A. Taylor on his own behalf.

Taylor is requesting that the court "issue an order declaring that the [FAA's registration rule] is void" and prohibited by Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. He alleges that that section specifically prohibits the FAA from promulgating any new rules or regulations regarding model aircraft if they are flown for hobby or recreational purposes.

Taylor requested an emergency stay of the FAA's registration requirement while the case winds its way through the legal process. That request was denied by the Court of Appeals on December 24, 2015, stating that Taylor "has not satisfied the stringent requirements for a stay pending court review."

The case will now proceed according to a schedule issued by the Court, with the next filing deadline January 27, 2016. 


Download the complaint below

Adobe Acrobat document [8.7 MB]



EPIC sued the Federal Aviation Administration for failing to establish privacy rules for commercial drones as mandated by Congress. Congress required the FAA to develop a "comprehensive plan" to "safely" integrate drones into the national airspace. In 2012, over 100 organizations, experts, and advocates joined EPIC in petitioning the FAA to establish privacy protections prior to the deployment of commercial drones in the United States. In 2014, the FAA responded to EPIC's petition, claiming that drone privacy implications "did not raise an immediate safety concern." The FAA further stated, "the FAA has begun a rulemaking addressing civil operation of small unmanned aircraft systems in the national airspace system. We will consider your comments and arguments as part of that project." But in 2015 when the FAA announced a rulemaking on commercial drones, the agency purposefully ignored privacy concerns, stating that privacy "issues are beyond the scope of this rulemaking."

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The information on this website is for educational purposes only and DOES NOT constitute legal advice. While the author of this website is an attorney, she is not your attorney, nor are you her client, until you enter into a written agreement with Nilsson Law, PLLC to provide legal services.

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