CHARLESTON -- Two prominent Charleston lawyers have again filed a lawsuit against the publisher of the Verizon Yellow Pages and a company that collects its debts.
Richard Neely and Michael O. Callaghan sued Idearc Media Corp. and Allied Interstate Inc. in Kanawha County Circuit Court on Feb. 2.
The lawsuit claims Neely and Callaghan's practice was harmed because Idearc refused to take the firm's business when it tried to buy an ad in the 2009 edition of the Verizon Yellow Pages. The plaintiffs say this refusal was due to a previous lawsuit the firm filed over a botched ad in last year's edition of the yellow pages.
Neely -- a former state Supreme Court Justice -- and Callaghan -- a former head of the state Democratic Party -- allege the companies are engaged in a racketeering scheme and have reserved the right to collect other plaintiffs similarly damaged and potentially file a class-action lawsuit.
Idearc and Allied had previously settled with Neely and Callaghan in their lawsuit claiming defamation and breach of contract.
That lawsuit stemmed from the law firm's botched ad in the 2008 yellow pages. The firm's complaint said the ad was "completely garbled," "libelous" and "defamatory."
The plaintiffs say that "anyone consulting the yellow pages would have been confused and/or misled as to what both the name of the firm and the nature of its practices were."
Neely and Callaghan say they would have let the matter drop because Idearc's Charleston operations are in the same building as the law firm. But the plaintiffs say Idearc demanded to be paid one-half the cost of the ad.
When the law firm refused to pay up, Idearc used its collection agency, Allied, to attempt to collect the debt.
Neely and Callaghan contend that Allied used typical collection techniques, including filing a bad credit report with Experian, TransAmerica and Equifax, the three major credit reporting agencies.
The plaintiffs say this practice is illegal because the "debt" to Idearc was non-existent.
In the current lawsuit, the plaintiffs say Idearc's refusal to take their business for the 2009 yellow pages is akin to the "decimation of French army battalions for cowardice in WWI 'pour encourager les autres' (to encourage the others) and is in furtherance of both defendants' conspiracy to accomplish illegal acts."
As part of their argument, Neely and Callaghan contend that this alleged activity on the parts of the defendants goes on unchallenged because many of Idearc's customers are small business owners who can't afford to fight a huge corporation in court.
And if a small business disputes the quality of an ad in the yellow pages, the plaintiffs argue, it is forced to pay up because Allied threatens to file a bad debt notice with the credit agencies. That would diminish the small business' ability to borrow money, the complaint says.
The plaintiffs say that during discovery in the previous lawsuit, Idearc revealed a "matrix document" that was used to determine how much of a credit a customer would get if there was a mistake in an ad.
Neely and Callaghan say the very existence of this document shows that Idearc regularly makes customers pay up for botched ads.
As for Allied, the plaintiffs say that company "actually knows that in the great majority of contested collection matters, the customer who is being hounded by Idearc and Allied does not actually owe the money."
The case has been assigned to Kanawha Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey Walker.
Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 09-C-165