Wendler wants sanctions on AIG in 7-year-old internet posting case

Steve Korris Mar. 12, 2009, 2:30am


EAST ST. LOUIS – Lawyer Brian Wendler of Edwardsville has lost patience with nearly bankrupt insurer AIG for refusing to find out who posted a message about him on the internet seven years ago.

On March 6 Wendler asked U.S. District Judge William Stiehl to impose sanctions on AIG in his defamation suit at federal court in East St. Louis.

The sanctions he proposed would win the case.

He moved to declare that the posting originated from AIG.

He moved to prohibit any defense that it came from anywhere else.

And, he moved to preclude any claim that AIG possessed no information about it.

Wendler represents Teamster union members in personal injury suits.

In 2002, someone posted on the Teamster website a newspaper article about his arrest on a domestic battery charge.

A message with the article warned, "Don't make the same mistake me and my husband did – it's a waste of money."

Wendler sued AIG at Madison County circuit court in 2003, claiming an independent investigation traced the posting to the insurer.

AIG removed the suit to federal court.

Stiehl granted summary judgment to AIG in 2006, ruling that AIG couldn't trace the posting to its source.

Wendler appealed to the Seventh Circuit in Chicago on several points, and judges there affirmed Stiehl on every point but one.

They held that Stiehl shouldn't have granted summary judgment without resolving a pending discovery motion from Wendler.

The case returned to Stiehl and discovery resumed.

Wendler obtained affidavits from two witnesses he had previously deposed, and he claimed the affidavits contradicted their depositions.

On Feb. 24 his lawyer, Michael Blotevogel of LakinChapman, moved for leave to depose the witnesses.

Ten days later Blotevogel sought sanctions, arguing that AIG switched from claiming privilege for documents to claiming documents didn't exist.

"Defendants now claim they do not have any 'computer records' relating to their investigation other than a few responses to a bulk e-mail that was sent to some of defendant's employees in October of 2004 regarding the posting," he wrote.

"This claim strains credulity, considering the ubiquity of e-mail communications in the corporate world," he wrote.

He plunged into speculation.

"Obviously, if defendants obtained the newspaper article referenced in the internet posting outside of the pleadings in this case, their source may also be the source of the posting or know who was," he wrote.

"Similarly, communications and correspondence regarding the newspaper article, or between defendant and plaintiff's former clients, had they been disclosed prior to the discovery deadline, could have led plaintiff to the source," he wrote.

"Computer records wherein the message in question was the subject of the communication are obviously pertinent, as would be any computer records evidencing the exchange by defendants of communications to Teamster.net," he wrote.

U.S. taxpayers bear most of the cost of defending the suit and would bear most of the cost of any judgment in Wendler's favor.

AIG, the world's largest insurer, nearly collapsed last year due to defaults on credit transactions it insured.

Taxpayers bailed out AIG and took 80 percent ownership.

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