Donnewald Distributing, Koerner Distributor sued after Koerner employee allegedly pretended to be from competitor

By The Madison County Record | Nov 10, 2014

A southern Illinois beer distribution company is suing over claims a competitor's employee pretended to be its representative allegedly in order to complain of a third competitor to the third competitor's client.

Robert "Chick" Fritz Inc. filed a lawsuit Oct. 10 in Madison County Circuit Court against Donnewald Distributing Co., Koerner Distributor Inc. and Jeff Jones, citing defamation.

According to the complaint, Chick Fritz, Donnewald, and Koerner are all beer distributors in southern Illinois, and on April 9, Koerner employee Jones entered the Shop 'N Save in Jerseyville and took pictures of a display selling Uinta Brewing Co.'s Hop Nosh IPA, a product distributed by Donnewald, at a reduced price. The lawsuit states Jones then emailed the photo to Uinta Brewing Co. with a false email address, alleging to be Anne Fritz for Chick Fritz, and informed them that Donnewald was delivering expired beer to Shop 'N Save. The plaintiff says Jones knew the email would caused damage to Koerner's reputation for disparaging Donnewald, and that is why he pretended to be a representative of Chick Fritz, putting the company in a false light.

The complaint states that on April 11, Uinta Brewing Co. forwarded the email to Donnewald to find out if the allegations were true, and Donnewald began disparaging Chick Fritz to its customers, potential customers and craft brewers and the public, telling people not to work with the company, saying it had "no integrity," and calling its sales representatives "liars." As a result, the complaint states, the Edwardsville Shop 'N Save took Chick Fritz products off display and its store managers told Chick Fritz representatives that they worked for a "[bad] company." Chick Fritz says it approached Shop 'N Save upper management and was able to obtain a copy of the email and security footage showing Jones taking the photo.

Donnewald is accused of defamation, tortious interference with prospective economic advantage and false light, in failing to ascertain the truth of the email before making disparaging remarks about Chick Fritz, especially when the truth was readily available, as evidenced when Chick Fritz obtained a copy of the email and security footage. Koerner and Jones are accused of false light.

Robert "Chick" Fritz Inc. seeks more than $50,000 in damages plus punitive damages and costs of suit. It is represented by attorneys Ryan Mahoney and David Cates of Cates Mahoney in Swansea.

Madison County Circuit Court case number: 14-L-1384.

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