Oregon farm sues over strawberries

A third Oregon farm has filed a lawsuit against a California nursery alleging that it delivered the wrong strawberry plants.

A California nursery is again accused of selling the wrong variety of strawberries to an Oregon farm, which is the third such lawsuit filed against the company.

A complaint filed against Norcal Nursery Inc. of Red Bluff, Calif., claims the company agreed to sell 600,000 strawberry plants of the Tillamook cultivar to Blue Heron Farms in Marion County, Ore., but delivered starts of the “inferior quality” Pinnacle variety instead.

“Pinnacle strawberries were developed to be similar to Tillamook strawberries in size and shape, but in reality, the berries are about half the size of Tillamook strawberries and are more difficult to harvest,” the complaint said. “In addition, Pinnacle strawberry plants do not have good longevity and have much greater sensitivity to wet conditions.”

Blue Heron Farms alleges the strawberries harvested in 2018 were “noticeably dissimilar and did not yield the same quantity and quality” as would be expected with the Tillamook variety, hindering its ability to hire seasonal workers willing to pick the “more difficult” fruit.

The farm said it had to disk its strawberry fields early to replant them with “genetically correct” plants, and a major wholesale client would only buy the Pinnacle fruit for “juice stock” at a “significantly reduced purchase price,” according to the complaint.

The lawsuit accuses Norcal Nursery Inc. of breach of contract, breach of express warranty and negligence. The complaint seeks about $509,000 in “actual damages” as well compensation for “loss of value, reputation and future business,” bringing total damages to about $857,000.

The lawsuit is the third filed against Norcal Nursery in the U.S. District Court for Oregon. Capital Press was unable to reach an attorney representing the company.

Last year, Norcal Nursery Inc. faced a lawsuit seeking $2.5 million in damages filed by Townsend Farms of Fairview, Ore., which claimed to have planted 1.6 million strawberry plants that had been represented as Tillamook but turned out to have “poor yield and inferior berry quality.”

In its answer to the complaint, Norcal Nursery Inc. admitted that genetic testing had determined the strawberries delivered to Townsend Farms weren’t of the Tillamook cultivar but of the Pinnacle variety.

However, the company denied the allegations that the resulting strawberries were of inferior quality and yield, forcing Townsend to incur “additional farming costs” and “lost profits.”

The company also said the strawberry plants were sold “as is” and “with all faults,” without providing any warranty as to “description, variety or productivity of any cuttings, runners or plants.”

Any liability on Norcal’s part was limited under its agreement with Townsend to the purchase price of the plants and any alleged damages were caused by “factors outside of Norcal’s control such as weather, soil conditions and/or farming methods,” the answer said.

However, a federal judge in Portland dismissed the lawsuit in June because the “action has been settled” on undisclosed terms.

That same month, the Ditchen Berry Co. in Marion County, Ore., filed a lawsuit against Norcal Nursery Inc., after buying 146,250 allegedly mislabeled strawberry plants from Townsend Farms, which had obtained them from Norcal.

The complaint accuses the California company of negligence and seeks $427,000 in damages for negligence. In its answer to the lawsuit, Norcal Nursery argues that Ditchen should have joined Townsend Farms and the USDA — which developed the varieties — in the complaint.

Norcal Nursery also claims that it’s not legally responsible for the any damages to Ditchen, which were caused by the “acts, omissions, activities, carelessness, recklessness, negligence, and/or intentional misconduct of others,” among other legal arguments.

I've been working at Capital Press since 2006 and I primarily cover legislative, regulatory and legal issues.

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