Judge Strikes Down Michigan County’s Drone Ban

A Michigan county’s attempt to ban drone flights in its public parks crashed and burned last week after a judge ruled the ordinance flew in the face of state law.

Flint-area circuit court Judge Joseph Farah granted an injunction to prohibit enforcement of the ban as part of a lawsuit filed last year by the Michigan Coalition of Drone Operators.

In 2018, police handcuffed, and detained group member Jason Harrison after confiscating his  DJI Mavic drone, claiming UAV flights over local parks were illegal. At the time, drone flights were not banned, and police didn’t prosecute the ticket. Later, the county board of commissioners changed park regulations to ban drones.

“This case was specifically about the issue of takeoff/landing,” Harrison said in a Facebook post last week. “The park acknowledged early in the case they lack the authority to regulate airspace and overflights, but they contended that they had authority to prevent takeoff/landing because they felt preemption didn’t apply to them.”

In his ruling, Farah agreed with the MCDO  that Michigan state law forbids local governments from issuing drone bans.

“The crux of the case is that Genesee County was regulating unmanned aircraft while Michigan law clearly reads that local governments shall not do this,” an MCDO spokesperson said. “Harrison contended all along that the rangers lacked the authority to make such an arrest or to enforce local drone ordinances.”

“This day is a huge celebration for the rule of law and legal drone operations,” Ryan J. Latourette, Director of Regulatory Affairs with Great Lakes Drone Company LLC said in a Facebook post.

“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,” Latourette added.

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