Remand Denied in Lawsuit Alleging Aerial Herbicide Application Destroyed Blueberry Crops

The Middle District of Georgia denied the request by Diane Cartey to remand a lawsuit she filed against Nutrien Ag Solutions and Aerial Specialists to the Superior Court of Morgan County on Friday. The court ruled that the defendant had sufficiently shown that the amount in controversy is above the required $75,000, despite the plaintiff’s allegations that the amount is lower. 

Cartey claimed in her initial complaint, asserting negligence and trespass breaching Georgia state laws, that a helicopter flown by the defendants trespassed over her property and sprayed her organic blueberries with herbicide. Reportedly, the defendants’ actions destroyed her crops. 

In the Friday order, Judge C. Ashley Royal reported that letters sent by the plaintiff’s counsel to the defendants before the lawsuit asked for $500,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, and later for $480,000. This included funds for lost profits from the crop, lost profit from future soil inactivity, replacing the blueberry bushes, reconditioning the soil, and replanting the blueberry bushes, which added to between $56,726.60 and $74,046.63 in compensatory damages which should, according to the letter from the plaintiff’s counsel, be compounded. 

The Middle District of Georgia said that it included the requests reported in these letters in its consideration because the defendants received the letters before removing the lawsuit to the district court. It determined that Nutrien and Aerial Specialists had fulfilled their burden of proving that the damage amount, while including punitive damages, was sufficient for the removal. 

Because of the detailed amounts in the letters sent to the defendants, the court determined that they did not constitute posturing. The judge also cited Cartey’s allegations that the helicopter pilot “continuously emitt[ed] powerful herbicides for several passes before correcting course,” which additionally led the court to determine that diversity jurisdiction standards were met. 

Cartey is represented by Christopher L. Weems. The defendants are represented by Hall Booth Smith PC