Gleeson: Man admits to making false statements regarding home explosion; Glen Carbon attorney seeks sanctions following alleged threats

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Jan 2, 2019

St. Clair County Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson entered an order stating that a man made “conclusive judicial admissions” about false statements regarding the circumstances of a home explosion.

Gleeson entered the order Dec. 10, stating that defendant Christopher Arnold admitted the falsity of statements made against attorney Ronald S. Motil of Glen Carbon when he affirmed allegations in Count I of the plaintiffs’ complaint. He even sought to retract the alleged false statements.

“Upon consideration of the pleadings and statements made in open court, the court hereby finds that by those deliberate, unequivocal statements about facts within his particular knowledge, Christopher Arnold has made conclusive judicial admissions,” the order states.

The order states that Arnold has admitted that he falsely stated to a third party that Lee and Cheryl Irwin lied about the circumstances of an explosion at the residence, falsely stated that the Irwins perjured themselves and falsely testified with regard to circumstances of the explosion, falsely stated that the Irwins abused and traded in illicit controlled substances and that the Irwin’s use of controlled substances was the cause of the explosion, and falsely stated that Motil instructed him to tamper with and/or destroy evidence.


Keefe  

Arnold, who is representing himself pro se, responded by filing a motion to amend his answer on Dec. 10, arguing that he “already denied making any of the false statements.” He added that he wishes to affirm making the statements, but deny that they were false or made with malice.

Arnold also filed a motion for default judgment, arguing that there has been no objection or response to his counterclaim. He requests a default judgment of $50,000.

Plaintiffs Lee Irwin, Cheryl Irwin and Motil filed a motion for summary judgment on Dec. 5 through attorney Thomas Keefe Jr. of Keefe, Keefe & Unsell in Belleville. They argue that the defendant “confirms” in his answer the allegations that he made false statements.

“Further, in his pleading filed on August 8, 2018, defendant has already acknowledged to this court that those statements about Mr. Motil were untrue – he attempts to rescind them,” the motion states.

The plaintiffs had filed a motion for sanctions on Oct. 25, arguing that the defendant has expressed erratic behavior. They claim Arnold “called threatening us with a ‘tell-all story’ in the Belleville News Democrat, and asking if we wanted ‘a copy of the interview.’”

“Plaintiff’s counsel respectfully asks this court to instruct Mr. Arnold to drive someone else crazy other than us,” the motion states.

The plaintiffs had previously sought sanctions on Aug. 20, alleging Arnold contacted their counsel’s office and made “explicit threats to plaintiffs and their counsel.”

“He specifically stated that plaintiffs ‘might want to think twice about pursuing a lawsuit against him because he knows a lot of things about them that he’s sure they don’t want anyone to know,” the motion states.

“That it was this pattern of previous behavior, ironically, that is the subject matter of this very lawsuit.

“That Mr. Arnold leveled similar threats against plaintiffs during prosecution of the underlying lawsuit in Madison County, and sure enough he carried out those threats by making false, libelous, and defamatory statements about each of the plaintiffs.

“That neither plaintiffs nor the undersigned appreciate being threatened by Mr. Arnold and hereby request sanctions against him for such behavior,” the motion states.

Arnold filed a response to the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment on Dec. 10, arguing that he was “thrusted” into the case without the ability to hire an attorney and must handwrite all pleadings.

He asserts that “the primary defense in this action is the truth. And the only way to assert truthfull (sic) defense is to admit the statements were made. And I the defendant knew them to be true at the time.”

Arnold further argues that the statements made to AmeriGas Inc. were part of a privileged conversation and should exempt him from this action.

“And when those statements were made there was not (sic) malice, no intent to harm, and I knew them to be true,” the response states.

He also filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that he “chose to participate within his rights in a civil action or government proceeding.”

The Irwins filed their original lawsuit in Madison County against AmeriGas Propane Inc. and property owner Doris King in February 2015 following an explosion that was allegedly caused by leaking gas (15-L-183). The suit was filed through Motil, who withdrew his appearance on Oct. 25, 2017. Keefe took over as plaintiff attorney in the injury suit.

The plaintiffs filed their three-count defamation complaint against Arnold on Jan. 18, 2018. The Irwins allege Arnold falsely said they lied about the circumstances of the explosion, have perjured themselves, abused controlled substances, traded in illicit controlled substances, and that the alleged use of the controlled substances caused the explosion.

Motil alleges Arnold falsely stated that he instructed the defendant to tamper with and destroy evidence.

Cheryl Irwin individually alleges Arnold stated that she swore falsely and perjured herself in an unrelated protective order proceeding.

The plaintiffs claim Arnold published the alleged statements on June 27, 2017, in a telephone call to a “1-800” phone number, by an unprivileged conversation with Motil, and at other times to be identified in discovery.

The plaintiffs allege Arnold’s statements have substantially damaged and will continue to damage them.

They seek more than $20 million, plus costs.

In the Irwins’ original 2015 complaint against AmeriGas and King, the Irwins allege they entered into a lease agreement with King to rent a property located at 805 Troy Street in Collinsville on Sept. 22, 2014. Prior to moving in, the Irwins allegedly entered into an agreement with AmeriGas to provide propane gas and related services to the property through a propane tank located in the rear of the residence and gas service lines located throughout the residence.

The propane tank provided propane to various gas appliances within the home, including the water heater located in the basement.

At approximately 2 p.m. on Sept. 22, 2014, an AmeriGas employee partially filled the propane tank with 100 gallons of liquid propane. The employee was unable to light the water heater but allegedly informed the Irwins that he would allow propane to enter the home so the gas stove could be used. He then left the property around 3 p.m.

The suit states that when Lee Irwin returned home from work at 6 p.m., he and Cheryl Irwin went into the basement and attempted to light the water heater. However, his attempts to light the appliance caused an explosion due to leaking gas.

State Farm also filed a lawsuit involving the explosion on behalf of King and against AmeriGas.

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number 18-L-35

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