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Bay Area Wine Grape Growers sue BNSF Railway alleging Illegal, Negligent Herbicide Damage

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Two farming companies owned by Fred and Nancy Cline of Cline Family Cellars have sued the BNSF Railway Company and three of its contractors alleging negligent and illegal use of powerful herbicides that damaged vineyards and orchards near the train tracks.


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The lawsuit was filed in Contra Costa Superior Court by Mulehead Growers, LLC and Oxfoot Associates LLC. They are represented by attorney Stephen C. Snider of Lodi.

Imazapyr, Flumioxazin and Glyphosate

The Mulehead/ Oxfoot complaint alleges that BNSF contractors applied a herbicide mixture containing Imazapyr, Flumioxazin and Glyphosate to the railroad properties and rights of way which, in many places, were surrounded by cropland.


“Predictably, the herbicides were spread over Plaintiff’s land and crops. While the full extent of the resulting damages being evaluated, the observable damages has been widespread.”

Contractors sued

In addition to BNSF Railway, the contractors being sued are: Ferrosafe, LLC, (an Arizona corporation), Rumble Spray, Inc. (a Washington corporation), and Alligare, LLC (an Alabama corporation).


The damages, according to the complaint, affected four land parcels, totaling 171 acres farmed by Mulehead and Oxfoot.


According to the complaint, Flumioxazin and Imazapyr are not approved for use on or near cropland. The chemicals, said the complaint, “are devastating to growing crops,” and “routinely used to clear away vegetation along roads, levees, railways, and other places where a barren surface is desired. ”


Damage, destruction, lost yields from trees and vines

Damage to trees and vines was not detailed in the complaint which stated that, “losses include, but are not limited to, damage and destruction of trees and vines, lost yields from said trees and vines, additional cultural costs incurred to investigate and mitigate the damage, the cost of replacement trees and vines, lost income and profits, and additional costs of labor and restoration. The losses will be demonstrated according to proof at trial.”


The Mulehead/Oxfoot complaint stated that they “first noticed symptoms of the damage caused by said application in March of 2016, when they first became observable.


All of the affected land is owned by the two Cline partnerships except for a 5.76-acre parcel leased from the city of Oakley. Of the Cline vineyards two are named in the lawsuit as as “Bridgehead” and a third as “Big Break.”


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Large, high-resolution image of properties affected available for Wine Executive News Premium Subscribers

Impacted areas known for Zinfandel, Rhône varietals

All three areas are especially known for Zinfandel.


Cline Cellars established its reputation in the late 1980s as one of the top “Rhone Rangers” with Mourvèdre and Carignane from its “Ancient Vines” vineyards in Contra Costa County. It is unknown if any of those older vineyards are affected.


Ridge Vineyards produces Mourvedre from the Bridgehead area as well.

Malicious, oppressive conduct

The complaint does not specify precise monetary damages, but said that the conduct of the defendants was “malicious and oppressive” and that exemplary damages as well as attorney and other costs should be awarded for:

  • Negligence,
  • Trespass,
  • Nuisance and
  • Strict Liability for Harm Arising from Ultra-Hazardous Activities

The parties are due in court May 23 for a case management conference

Court document available for Wine Executive News premium subscribers

The complaint as filed with the Contra Costa Superior Court is available to Wine Executive News premium subscribers at this link.