A dispute between neighbors in Palm Coast’s C-Section over the copious presence of Purple Martin birds and involving a drone, a laser pointer, the daily Apocalypse Now-like broadcasting of loud predatory bird sounds and complaints to local authorities, has escalated into a lawsuit from one neighbor against another.
Philip Lowe, 77, and his wife Sarah Thompson-Lowe, of 29 Collingwood Lane, filed the lawsuit in Flagler County Circuit Court in early April against Bryan Streetman, 47, of 25 Collingwood Lane. The lawsuit was the culmination of a series of actions the Lowes took against Streetman, including a complaint with the Palm Coast Code Enforcement division, a petition signed by 18 neighborhood residents seeking an end to Streetman’s broadcasting “shrill and screeching predatory bird sounds” from 7:15 a.m. until dark, complaints to police in mid-February, and a lawyer’s cease-and-desist letter seeking to stop Streetman from flying his drone or using a laser light in such a way as to intrude on neighbors.
Earlier this month, Streetman countered with a motion to dismiss the lawsuit against him, claiming his neighbors have no “clear legal right” to seek an injunction against him.
The Lowes have lived at their current address for 17 years. For all that time, between each January and July, they’ve maintained 24 bird gourds on their dock as nesting sites for Purple Martin birds, which are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Lacey Act, their lawyer says. Aside from their elegance and aesthetically pleasing presence to many residents—including those at 31 and 11 Collingville Court, who also maintain nesting gourds—the birds help control the mosquito population.
Streetman moved in next door three years ago. In January and February, the Lowes claimed in the lawsuit, Streetman flew a drone in the rear of his property, but also above the Lowes’s property and near the nesting gourds, resulting in altercations between the neighbors. On Feb. 14, Delphine Meyers, the neighbor at 11 Collingville Court, directly across the canal from Streetman’s property, reported to the sheriff that a bright red and green laser beam was penetrating her home from a laser bird deterrent system on Streetman’s grounds. (Code Enforcement issued a nuisance citation to Streetman over the laser and noise issues on Feb. 19.)
St. Augustine attorney Marcus Thompson sent a letter to Streetman on behalf of the Lowes on Feb. 22 citing the “excessive noise” of the drone and its use of a camera as violating the city’s nuisance ordinance and, in the case of the camera, state law, which prohibits surveillance. Thompson also noted the laser incident, which was documented by a sheriff’s deputy at the scene. “It is our hope that these issues can be resolved peacefully and respectfully, without the necessity of litigation,” Thompson wrote.
Streetman turned off the laser only to place an inflatable and noisy “air dancer” device on his property as a new deterrent to the birds. According to the lawsuit, he continued flying the drone and using high-frequency noise devices, which the suit claims have affected the Lowes’s ability to sleep while creating “a serious discomfort, distress and inconvenience” to them and other neighbors. The repetitive nature of the noise is equated to harassment, according to the suit, which seeks an end to the use of those devices, or flying the drones near the nesting areas of the birds, or using laser lights.
In his response on behalf of Streetman, attorney Ryan Mitchell ridiculed the claim that his client was in any way violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, for two reasons: Streetman is in no way hunting, shooting, killing, wounding or trapping the birds, as the act sets out as prohibited actions. And the federal act “has clearly established that there is no private right of action conferred on individuals.” In other words, as Mitchell cites through various federal cases, it’s not an avenue in property disputes between neighbors. The same reasoning was applied to the code enforcement violation.
Mitchell was similarly dis missive of the use of the Lacey Act to back up the lawsuit against Streetman, as the Lacey Act, he argued, regulates the importation and transportation of species, and therefore has nothing to do with the present dispute.
A hearing on the dispute is scheduled before Circuit Judge Scott DuPont on June 30, in Courtroom 402 at the Flagler County Courthouse.