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JUDICIARY: Includes trespass, Missouri state law

In Keller Farms, Inc. v. McGarity Flying Serv., LLC, No. 18-3755, 2019 WL 6720198 (8th Cir. 2019), the court considered an appeal by the plaintiff of a lower court decision that found the defendants not liable for trespass or negligence for damage to the plaintiff caused by herbicide drift. The plaintiff, Keller Farms, operates a farm in Missouri, where it grows various crops and maintains a number of both windbreak and ornamental trees. It is located near another farm, owned by the defendants. In the spring of 2015, both the plaintiff and the defendants applied herbicide to their fields, with the defendants hiring a pilot to apply herbicides via airplanes. Afterwards, the plaintiff detected herbicidal damage to some of its crops and trees. In addition to reporting the damage to the Missouri Department of Agriculture, Keller Farms filed suit against the defendants, alleging negligence and statutory trespass under Missouri law for applying herbicides in such a way that they drifted onto the plaintiff’s property and caused damage to its crops and trees. The lower court found in favor of the defendants on all counts, prompting the plaintiff to initiate this appeal.

The plaintiff made two arguments on appeal. First, the plaintiff argued that the district court misread the Missouri trespass statute so that the plaintiff’s clam for crop damage was excluded. In interpreting the Missouri statute, the district court reasoned that only the plaintiff’s claim for tree damage was actionable because the text of the statute makes “injury” to trees compensable, to requires that crops be dug up, cut down, or carried away, which did not happen to the plaintiff’s crops. The appellate court sided with the district court, finding that the statute was unambiguous. Under the Missouri trespass statute, the plaintiff could bring a claim for the injury to its trees, but could not bring a claim for the damage to its crops unless they were dug up, cut down, or carried away.

Next, the plaintiff argued that it offered enough evidence to the district court to show that it deserved an award of damages for the statutory trespass claim concerning injury done to its windbreak and ornamental trees. The appellate court disagreed. Under Missouri law, the amount of damages awarded to a plaintiff for damage caused due to trespass is the difference in what the plaintiff’s property was worth before the trespass occurred and what the plaintiff’s property is worth after the trespass occurred. In this case, Keller Farms only offered the market value of the trees and the amount that it originally purchased the land for. Because this is all that Keller Farms offered the district court, the appellate court concluded that Keller Farms did not offer enough evidence to prove that it deserved an award of damages from the defendants. Accordingly, the appellate court upheld the district court’s decision.