WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The state should compensate nearly 41,000 Palm Beach County residents whose citrus trees were cut down during a failed decade-long effort to eradicate a harmful bacteria, a county circuit judge ruled.

The court found that the destruction of the trees constituted a "taking" under the Florida Constitution, "requiring full and just compensation," Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Robin Rosenberg wrote in her ruling late Friday.

The ruling was a response to a class-action lawsuit filed against the state Agriculture Department on behalf of David and Lillian Mendez, of Boca Raton, who had their citrus trees cut down in 2001 as the state tried to stop the spread of canker.

A jury trial is set for March 31 to determine how much the state owes the plaintiffs.

The Palm Beach County case was the first of five canker lawsuits against the state to go to trial. Another case is under way in Broward County. Similar lawsuits are pending in Lee, Miami-Dade and Orange counties.