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Judge In Michigan Rules In Favor Of Drone Operators

Genesee County Violated State Law Prohibiting Local Governments From Enacting Drone Restrictions

After more than a year in the making, the challenge to a drone ordinance passed in Genesee County, Michigan has resulted in what is being described as "a huge win" for drone operators.

Writing on the UAV Legal News and Discussion Facebook page, Ryan J. Latourette, Director of Regulatory Affairs at Great Lakes Drone Company LLC, said that in a recent action granted a permanent injunction against the county precluding enforcement of their ordinance that disallowed the use or possession of drones in county parks.

The injunction was sought out by a coalition of drone operators in Michigan after one of their own, Jason Harrison, was handcuffed, detained, and had both his drone and all electronics confiscated for legally flying in a Genesee County park back in December of 2018.

The drone operators formed the MCDO (Michigan Coalition of Drone Operators) and brought suit against the county regarding their ordinance. Michigan law specifically prohibits local governments from creating or enforcing their own drone ordinance in MCL 259.205 which is part of Act 436 passed in 2016 that covers unmanned aerial vehicles. Genesee County had attempted to argue that they were exempted from the state law. Hearings held back in October and November looked deeply into both the county’s interest to restrict drones and into the wording of the state law preempting the county’s ordinance.

A very short one-day respite from the ordinance was imposed by Judge Farah covering a few hours on Thanksgiving Day of 2019 for an event called Moundsgiving where off road vehicles flock to a park called the Mounds within the Genesee County parks system. The county was enjoined from barring drone operators from flying to catch all the action of the event provided that they follow FAA regulations. Despite that order parks police did still make an initial attempt to enforce the park ban and confronted Ryan Latourette and Jason Bates, both members of MCDO. After showing the officers the temporary injunction operators continued to fly without further incident.

Now, nearly three months after hearings on the lawsuit concluded, the decision is final. The State law specifically preempting all local ordinance on drones was found to be the rule of law. It is so ordered that local subdivisions may not create or enforce their own drone ordinances in the State of Michigan due to state law MCL 259.305. A total of 17 states across the nation have the same or very similarly worded state preemption law. While this case sets precedent only for the State of Michigan, it creates a very distinct signal that localities in other states with the preemption clause could find themselves in legal trouble attempting to enforce it. And the hope now is for the other 33 states to take up legislation to pass state preemption language similar to Michigan to ensure that there isn’t a patchwork of drone ordinances that endanger the national airspace (as was previously warned by the FAA).

"This day is a huge celebration for the rule of law and legal drone operations," Latourette wrote.

(Image from file)

FMI: Facebook


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