Court denies motion by Fred Weber to rehear lawsuit against Oakville man
April 20, 2005 - An appellate court last week denied a motion to rehear Fred Weber Inc.'s $5 million libel and defamation lawsuit against Oakville resident Tom Diehl.
|Attorney Jerry Wamser, right, holds a brass eagle presented to him by members of the John Doe Society for outstanding service to the cause of free speech in south county. Presenting the award, from left, are: attorney Les Stuckmeyer and Tom Diehl. An appellate court last week denied a motion to rehear Fred Weber Inc.'s $5 million libel and defamation lawsuit against Diehl.|
A three-judge panel of the Eastern Dis-trict of the Missouri Court of Appeals threw out the case in March, and Weber attorneys appealed for a rehearing with the full panel.
The company also asked the appellate court to recommend the case to the Mis-souri Supreme Court if it would not retry the case itself.
The appellate court denied both motions.
Diehl, his attorneys and supporters celebrated the court's decision April 14 with music, magic, beverages and a group singing of the "Battle Hymn of the Re-public," but he still isn't out of the woods. Weber has until April 26 to directly appeal to the state's highest court.
"I don't know what our clients intend to do," attorney Gary Feder of Husch & Ep-penberger told the Call. "Speaking personally, not for the company, I believe this case does have merit and should be heard by the (state) Supreme Court."
Diehl, meanwhile, has had enough.
"I would hope Fred Weber Inc. and their attorneys would do the right thing and drop this action so my wife and I can get our lives back," he told the Call.
"It's a big relief," Diehl said. "If (Web-er's) appeal had been upheld, it would have been more and more legal fees, more and more weeks of waiting and not knowing what was going to happen, more and more of the people of south county fearing to go out and voice their opinion. I believe the whole purpose of this litigation has been to scare the people of south county into silence."
Fred Weber sued Diehl in February 2004 for libel, slander, defamation and business conspiracy for his association with the fliers calling the company "trash terrorists." Besides seeking $5 million in punitive damages, the lawsuit sought at least $25,000 in actual damages.
Diehl and other Oakville residents opposed Fred Weber's efforts to construct a trash-transfer station in the south quarry near Baumgartner Road.
Residents flooded public hearings and after seeing the fliers, Fred Weber attorneys sued an unnamed number of "John Does," but later narrowed the suit to Diehl.
The County Council ultimately denied Weber's request to build the trash transfer, so the company also took the county to court, saying the council's decision was capricious and discriminatory against Weber.
That decision is pending, and with an appellate court victory to their favor, attorneys representing the John Does want to intervene in Fred Weber's case against the county.
Attorney Lester Stuckmeyer told the Call he'd been contacting church and other or-ganizational groups to join the suit also, but said he had not filed anything yet and preferred to reserve comment until a mo-tion to intervene had been filed.
In the appellate court's ruling on the Diehl case, a three-judge panel ruled the statement "trash terrorist" a matter of opinion, not a false statement of fact and therefore inapplicable to libel, slander, defamation or business conspiracy law.
Fred Weber attorneys falsely tried to isolate the term "terrorists" to prove Diehl inappropriately and inaccurately implied the company murdered innocent people, according to the opinion issued by the appellate court panel.
In a motion to appeal to the Missouri Su-preme Court, the company stated, "The panel's opinion narrowed and misconstrued the petition to allege that only the word 'terrorists' was at issue.
"Weber did not isolate the phrase 'terrorists.' Rather, Weber asserted that the entire phrase is very precise and was meant as a factual assertion striking at Weber's business reputation rather than as opposition to a particular project ...
"Further, the phrase 'trash terrorists' is quite precise because it falsely claims that Weber, which is in the landfill and trash business, operates them illegally or unethically and harms children, devalues neighborhoods, pollutes the environment and spreads disease with a political agenda and aim," the motion stated. "The flier attacks Weber's reputation; it does not address the merits of the proposed trash-transfer station."
If Fred Weber appeals directly to the Mis-souri Supreme Court, Diehl may wait months for an outcome while briefs and motions are filed and rebutted.
"It will probably be the end of the year before I'm free," Diehl said.