Michigan Supreme Court: No Privacy Violation in Drone Photos of Rural Property

Dispute Over Salvage Yard Leads to High Court Ruling

The Michigan Supreme Court has sided with a local government in a case involving drone photography of private property. The unanimous decision comes after a dispute arose between a couple and their township regarding the use of aerial photos to enforce zoning regulations.

Privacy vs. Regulation: The Maxons’ Case

Todd and Heather Maxon, a couple residing in northern Michigan, challenged the legality of drone photos taken by Long Lake Township in 2017 and 2018. The photos captured their rural property, which neighbors had reported as accumulating excessive junk and potentially transforming into a salvage yard.

The Maxons argued that the drone flights constituted an unreasonable search, violating their privacy rights. They sought to have the photos excluded from any legal action against them.

Ruling Favors Township’s Enforcement Efforts

The Michigan Supreme Court, however, disagreed. The court’s decision, written by Justice Brian Zahra, centered on the distinction between criminal and civil matters. The exclusionary rule, which allows courts to suppress evidence collected illegally, applies only in criminal cases.

Since the dispute involved zoning and nuisance ordinances, the court deemed it a civil case. Therefore, the exclusionary rule was not applicable. The court further noted that the township required the drone photos to ensure the Maxons complied with local regulations regarding property use.