Brief Fact Summary.
Defendant’s pesticide drifted and contaminated plaintiffs’ organic fields. Plaintiffs sued defendant for trespass.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Trespass claims address only tangible invasions of the right to exclusive possession of land.
It is the right of the owner in possession to exclusive possession that is protected by an action for trespass.View Full Point of Law
Plaintiffs were farmers who grew organic crops. Defendant was a company that sprayed pesticide on conventionally farmed fields adjacent to the plaintiffs’ fields. Some pesticides drifted onto and contaminated plaintiffs’ organic fields and organic products. Plaintiffs brought actions on trespass, nuisance and negligence per se.
Whether plaintiffs’ trespass claim fails as a matter of law?
Yes. Trial court was correct in concluding that plaintiffs’ trespass claim failed as a matter of law. The court reversed the Court of Appeal in part and affirmed in part and remanded the case to the trial court to determine the nuisance claim.
Defendant claimed that the invasion of particulate matter does not constitute a trespass in Minnesota as a matter of law. This Court evaluated the issue by discussing the nature and purpose of trespass law which is to prevent the intentional interference with rights of exclusive possession. In Minnesota, a trespass is committed where a plaintiff has the “right of possession” to the land at issue and there is a “wrongful and unlawful entry upon such possession by defendant. However, the disruption to the landowner’s exclusive possessory interest is not the same when the invasion is committed by an intangible agency, such as pesticide particles at issue here. This is because the interference with possessory rights and interference with use and enjoyment rights are different. Drifted particles did not affect plaintiffs’ possession of the land. The court of appeals’ expansion of trespass law to include intangible matters may subject countless persons and entities to automatic liability for trespass absent any demonstrated injury.
The Court also explained that including intangible matters as causes of trespass would also impose on the property owners the obligation to demonstrate that the invasion causes some consequence. However, this burden on property owner is inconsistent with the purpose of trespass law which is to protect the unconditional right of property owners even when no damages are provable.