NEW: Diehls reach settlement with Fred Weber

Couple sued company in 2005.

By EVAN YOUNG

An Oakville couple settled this week with Fred Weber Inc. in their five-year-old lawsuit against the company.

Tom and Barbara Diehl settled their case against Weber on Monday, according to the Diehls’ attorney, Mike Quinlan.

Terms of the settlement are not being disclosed, he said.

“The case was settled among the parties who have agreed that the terms of the settlement are confidential,” Quinlan said in a statement.

A deal came just as the case was about to go to trial. Jury selection had been scheduled Monday in St. Louis City Circuit Court.

“The settlement discussions had begun over the weekend,” Quinlan told the Call. “We didn’t even start trying to pick a jury because we wanted to complete the discussions, and we were able to do that.”

The Diehls filed a four-count lawsuit against Weber in July 2005 after the Missouri Court of Appeals dismissed the company’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 Tom 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 at 5219 Baumgartner Road near the company’s south quarry.

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 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.

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 appealed the ruling. In January, an appellate panel reversed most of the city court’s decision and sent the case back to trial court.

“(W)e find that Weber presented no evidence establishing that, at the time the defamation lawsuit was filed, anyone reasonably believed Weber was a terrorist based on the contents of the flier or that Weber’s reputation was damaged as a result,” the appellate judges’ opinion stated. “Instead, the record before us implies that the defamation lawsuit might have been an attempt to compel Mr. Diehl to stop exercising his First Amendment right to publicly oppose the proposed trash-transfer station, a collateral purpose.

“Consequently, there are disputed issues of material fact regarding whether Weber filed its defamation lawsuit to protect its reputation from harm or rather to quash distribution of the flier and opposition to the trash-transfer station …”

In July 2008, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources approved Weber’s application for a permit to build the trash-transfer station despite the proposal’s rejection by the county Department of Health and the County Council.

Between the MDNR’s action and a St. Louis County Circuit Court judge in October 2007 granting summary judgment in favor of Weber to construct and operate the station, County Counselor Patricia Redington entered into a settlement agreement with Weber to drop all of the county’s litigation to stop the facility.

The transfer station has not yet been built.