Appellate court hears oral arguments in Diehls’ suit against Fred Weber Inc.

Staff Report

An Oakville couple is awaiting word from the state appellate court on whether their lawsuit against Fred Weber Inc. will get a jury trial.

The Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals took Tom and Barbara Diehl’s case against Weber under submission last week after Judges Glenn Norton, Lawrence Mooney and Mary Hoff heard oral arguments.

The Diehls filed a four-count lawsuit against the company in July 2005 after the same appellate court dismissed Weber’s $5 million lawsuit against Tom Diehl that March, and after the state Supreme Court refused to hear the company’s case three months later.

Weber sued Diehl in February 2004 for his alleged involvement with fliers that labeled the company “trash terrorists.”

Diehl and hundreds of Oakville residents had opposed Weber’s efforts to construct a trash-transfer station in the company’s south quarry near Baumgartner Road.

Calling the fliers factless, malicious name-calling, Weber sued Diehl for libel, slander, defamation and business conspiracy.

Besides seeking $5 million in punitive damages, the lawsuit sought at least $25,000 in actual damages.

A representative of the American Civil Liberties Union told a panel of Missouri legislators in July 2004 that Weber’s lawsuit against Tom Diehl was “a classic SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) suit.” But attorneys for Fred Weber told that same panel that the lawsuit was not a SLAPP suit, but rather a legitimate defamation and libel lawsuit.

The appellate court eventually ruled that the phrase “trash terrorists” was not defamatory, and after Weber’s litigation was dismissed in 2005, the Diehls sued back.

They alleged malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, abuse of process and prima facie tort. They sought $50,000 in damages.

But the St. Louis City Circuit Court eventually granted summary judgment against Tom Diehl for his malicious prosecution and abuse of process claims, as well as Barbara Diehl’s prima facie tort claim. The court also dismissed the claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The Diehls want their case sent back to trial court. They are asking the appellate court to reverse the previous court’s decisions, which also include ordering Diehls’ attorney to return a memorandum that Weber attorneys “inadvertently produced” during discovery, and striking the Diehls’ amended petition to assert claims against the attorneys who represented Weber during its defamation suit.