Published on: August 23, 2018

Flying a drone over neighboring property by itself does not qualify as harassment under state law and a judge should not have stepped in between a father and son feuding over development on adjacent parcels on the South Shore, an appellate court ruled on July 11, 2018.

The names of the father and son whose “lamentable history of litigation” sparked the ruling by the Massachusetts Appeals Court was not disclosed in the decision. Instead, they were designated by the initials, FT for the father, and FWT for the son.

In 2016, the son went into Plymouth District Court complaining an employee of his father had flown a drone in the “line of sight” of a heavy equipment operator at least three times, and that another employee has twice ventured onto his property to “video the site.”

A judge concluded the drone and videotaping was sufficient for a civil harassment order to be issued. The law requires that the harmful actions create “fear, intimidation, abuse or damage to property.”

But a three-judge panel said that even when taking the bitter family feud into account, flying a drone across property lines, especially when there was nothing to show the machine caused upheaval of any type, does not qualify as civil harassment.

“While the defendant’s actions may have been disruptive or ‘abusive’ in an idiomatic sense, it falls well short of satisfying the two layers of intent mandated by our jurisprudence,” Judge Eric Neyman wrote for the panel. “Flying drones over or trespassing onto the property to videotape the worksite, viewed separately or as a whole, does not constitute harassment” under state law.

In a footnote, the court made it clear in a footnote that they did not approve of what happened.

“Our decision should not be construed as approving of the defendant’s conduct,’’ Neyman wrote, adding that other laws may be applicable. “We hold only that the facts of this case do not support the issuance of a harassment prevention order.”

For a copy of the Decision [click here].

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