(CN) – Florida owes $8 million to more than 50,000 citrus tree owners for wiping out 100,000 of their healthy trees in a citrus canker purge, a state appeals court ruled.
“Government has regulatory power for the very purpose of safeguarding the rights of citizens, not for destroying them,” Judge Gary Farmer wrote for the Fourth District Court of Appeals. “Under any possible meaning, if government cuts down and burns private property having value, then government has taken it. And if government has taken it, government must pay for it.”
The Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services had appealed the trial court’s decision, which awarded $8 million to the class of more than 50,000 tree owners in Broward County.
The owners complained that the government’s wiped out their healthy trees trying to eradicate a citrus canker epidemic. The trial court agreed, and so did the appeals court in West Palm Beach.
Judge Famer said the scientific facts in this case favored the tree owners.
“There is substantial competent evidence that healthy, privately owned citrus trees are not harmful or destructive, even though found within 1,900 feet of a tree not having citrus canker,” he wrote.
“Healthy trees taken under the [eradication program] had continued to produce the fruit, the juice, the shade, the pleasing aromas, the agreeable vistas — all the virtues for which their owners carefully planted and tended them.”