United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MICHAEL S. SINGER, Plaintiff,
CITY OF NEWTON, Defendant.
FINDINGS OF FACT, RULINGS OF LAW, &
WILLIAM G. YOUNG DISTRICT JUDGE.
crux of this dispute is whether portions of a certain
ordinance (the “Ordinance”) passed by the City of
Newton (“Newton”) on December 19, 2016 are
preempted. First Am. Compl. Declaratory and Injunctive
Relief, ECF No. 12. Michael S. Singer (“Singer”)
challenges portions of the Ordinance which require that all
owners of pilotless aircraft (commonly referred to as
“drones” or “UAS”) register their
pilotless aircraft with Newton, and also prohibit operation
of pilotless aircraft out of the operator's line of sight
or in certain areas without permit or express permission.
Id.; Def. City Newton's Mem. Law Supp. Cross
Mot. Summ. J. and Opp'n Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 2,
Newton Ordinances § 20-64, ECF No. 40-3.
early March, Newton answered Singer's complaint, Answer
Def. City of Newton First Am. Compl., ECF No. 17, and both
parties appeared before the Court soon after, when they
agreed to cross-file motions for summary judgment and proceed
on a case stated basis,  Electronic Clerk's Notes, ECF No.
21. Both parties subsequently filed motions for summary
judgment, Pl.'s Corrected Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 34; Def.
City of Newton's Cross Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 39, and
fully briefed the issues, Pl.'s Corrected Mem. Supp. Mot.
Summ. J. (“Pl.'s Mem.”), ECF No. 35;
Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s Cross-Mot. Summ. J.
(“Pl.'s Resp.”), ECF No. 50; Pl.'s Resp.
City's Statement Undisputed Facts (“Pl.'s Resp.
Facts”), ECF No. 51; Def. City Newton's Mem. Law
Supp. Cross Mot. Summ. J. and Opp'n Pl.'s Mot. Summ.
J. (“Def.'s Mem.”), ECF No. 40; Def. City of
Newton's Statement Undisputed Facts Supp. Cross Mot.
Summ. J. and Resps. Pl.'s Statement Undisputed Material
Facts Supp. Mot. Summ. J. (“Def.'s Facts”),
ECF No. 41; see also Amici Curiae Br. (“Amicus
Br.”), ECF No. 57. After oral argument on June 13, 2017,
this Court took the matter under advisement. Electronic
Clerk's Notes, ECF No. 59.
FINDINGS OF FACT
is a municipality in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and is
organized under a charter pursuant to the Home Rule Amendment
of the Massachusetts Constitution. Pl.'s Resp. Facts
¶ 1; Def.'s Facts ¶ 1. Singer resides in
Newton. Am. Compl. ¶ 22. He is a Federal Aviation
Administration (“FAA”)-certified small unmanned
aircraft pilot and owns and operates multiple drones in
Newton. Id. ¶¶ 22, 25. Singer does not
operate or register his drones as a hobbyist. Tr. Case-Stated
Hearing (“Tr.”) 20:15-18, ECF No. 60.
August 2015, members of Newton's City Council proposed
discussing the possibility of regulating drones for the
principal purpose of protecting the privacy interests of
Newton's residents. Pl.'s Resp. Facts ¶ 3;
Def.'s Facts ¶ 3. On March 23, 2016, an initial
draft of the Ordinance was presented for discussion.
See Def.'s Mem., Ex. 3, Public Safety &
Transportation Committee Report dated Mar. 23, 2016 1, ECF
No. 40-4. Following further inquiry and amendment, see,
e.g., Def.'s Mem., Ex. 7, Public Safety &
Transportation Committee Report dated May 5, 2016 1, ECF No.
40-8; Def.'s Mem., Ex. 9, Public Safety &
Transportation Committee Report dated Sept. 7, 2016 6-7, ECF
No. 40-10, but without FAA approval, Def.'s Mem., Ex. 16,
Def. City of Newton's Answers Pl.'s First Set
Interrogs. (“Def.'s Answers Interrogs.”) 3,
ECF No. 40-17, Newton's City Council approved the final
Ordinance on December 19, 2016, Def.'s Mem., Ex. 12,
Public Safety & Transportation Committee Report dated
Dec. 19, 2016 1, ECF No. 40-13.
Ordinance states in part:
Purpose: The use of pilotless aircraft is an
increasingly popular pastime as well as learning tool. It is
important to allow beneficial uses of these devices while
also protecting the privacy of residents throughout the City.
In order to prevent nuisances and other disturbances of the
enjoyment of both public and private space, regulation of
pilotless aircraft is required. The following section is
intended to promote the public safety and welfare of the City
and its residents. In furtherance of its stated purpose, this
section is intended to be read and interpreted in harmony
with all relevant rules and regulations of the Federal
Aviation Administration, and any other federal, state and
local laws and regulations.
Def.'s Mem., Ex. 2, Newton Ordinances § 20-64, ECF
No. 40-3. “Pilotless aircraft” is defined as
“an unmanned, powered aerial vehicle, weighing less
than 55 pounds, that is operated without direct human contact
from within or on the aircraft.” Id. §
20-64(a). In section (b), the Ordinance imposes certain
registration requirements upon owners of all pilotless
aircraft. Id. § 20-64(b). Section (c) sets
forth operating prohibitions, including, inter alia,
a ban on the use of a pilotless aircraft below an altitude of
400 feet over private property without the express permission
of the owner of the private property, id. §
20-64(c)(1)(a), “beyond the visual line of sight of the
Operator, ” id. § 20-64(c)(1)(b),
“in a manner that interferes with any manned aircraft,
” id. § 20-64(c)(1)(c), over Newton city
property without prior permission, id. §
20-64(c)(1)(e), or to conduct surveillance or invade any
place where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy,
id. § 20-64(c)(1)(f)-(g). Violations of the
Ordinance are punishable by a $50 fine following a one-time
warning. Id. § 20-64(f).
RULINGS OF LAW
Singer challenges four subsections of the Ordinance: the
registration requirements of section (b) and the operation
limits of subsections (c)(1)(a), (c)(1)(b), and (c)(1)(e).
Pl.'s Mem 3-4; Pl.'s Resp. i. Singer argues that the
Ordinance is preempted by federal law because it attempts to
regulate an almost exclusively federal area of law, Pl.'s
Mem. 6-15, in a way that conflicts with Congress's
purpose, id. at 14-15. In turn, Newton posits that
the Ordinance is not preempted by federal law because it
falls within an area of law that the FAA expressly carved out
for local governments to regulate, Def.'s Mem. 8-10, and
thus can be read in harmony with federal aviation laws and
regulations, id. at 10-11.
Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution provides
that federal laws are supreme, U.S. Const. art. VI, cl. 2,
thus requiring that federal laws preempt any conflicting
state or local regulations, see Maryland v.
Louisiana, 451 U.S. 725, 746 (1981) (citing
McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 427 (1819)).
Under our federalist system, however, a court must be wary of
invalidating laws in areas traditionally left to the states
unless the court is entirely convinced that Congress intended
to override state regulation. See, e.g., Gregory
v. Ashcroft, 501 U.S. 452, 460 (1991) (citing
Atascadero State Hosp. v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 243
(1985)). In contrast, if a state government attempts to
regulate an area traditionally occupied by the federal
government, a court need not seek to avoid preemption.
See United States v. Locke, 529 U.S. 89, 108 ...