CHARLESTON – A Mingo County pharmacist is suing CBS after he claims the evening news defamed him.
CBS Corporation, CBS Broadcasting, CBS News, Jim Axelrod, Ashley Velie and Scott Pelley were all named as defendants in the suit.
In 2007, Samuel R. Ballengee built and opened Tug Valley Pharmacy in Williamson, where he and his pharmacy were well respected in the community, according to a complaint filed Jan. 6 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.
Ballengee claims in 2010, 2011 and 2012, Tug Valley and Ballengee were among a number of doctors and pharmacies in the area who were named in multiple civil suits filed by customers and/or patients and Ballengee maintained his business and reputation during the lawsuits, suffering little or no long-term economic loss.
Tug Valley was also voted Best Pharmacy in the Mingo/Logan area by residents in 2007, 2008 and 2011, according to the suit.
Ballengee claims in September 2015, he and McKesson Corporation entered into a supply agreement for the supply of controlled and non-controlled pharmaceutical drugs to the pharmacy and, prior to the execution of the supply agreement, Ballengee and a compliance officer from McKesson spoke concerning his control orders, past history and requested a copy of his past dispensing reports, which he provided.
On Jan. 7, 2016, a news story was broadcast across the United States on a CBS Evening News television program, according to the suit. When you access the article online, Ballengee’s image appears as the first freeze screen, along with the title, “Drug Distributors Under Fire In West Virginia Pail Killer Epidemic.”
Ballengee claims the defendants made and published statements that falsely implied that he had in the past and was in the present intentionally and illegally dispensing prescriptions while making millions of dollars in profit.
The defendants also implied that Ballengee was making millions of dollars in profit through criminal acts and implied that he was being criminally charged for intentionally, negligently or illegally dispensing prescriptions while making millions of dollars in profit through criminal acts, according to the suit.
Ballengee claims after the CBS report, McKesson ended its relationship with him.
The plaintiff’s reputation in the professional pharmacy community was ruined, destroyed and devalued as a direct consequence of the CBS news story, according to the suit.
Ballengee claims his total prescriptions filled dropped from 9,258 to 7,536 in the month after the news story. His total dropped again to 6,410 in February 2016.
After the news story, Ballengee claims he was unable to find distributors to sell him non-controlled pharmaceutical drugs and was unable to refill his pharmaceutical drug supply with a long-term supplier and was rapidly losing customers who did not want to go to two different pharmacies to fill prescriptions, according to the suit.
Ballengee claims he was faced with the prospect of terminating his employees and ruining a local business he had built from the ground up, or to sell the pharmacy, which he elected to do.
The plaintiff sold the pharmacy for $900,000, a substantial amount less than the more than $2.2 million valuation of the business, according to the suit.
Ballengee claims on May 26, another CBS news story ran on television and online, that falsely implied that he had received suspicious orders in 2008 of hydrocodone from McKesson and also implied that he had accepted unreasonable bonuses and sales incentives from McKesson for the sale of oxycodone and hydrocodone.
The plaintiff never turned a blind eye to the addiction in West Virginia, regardless of the money involved, and would actively turn away and banned customers who he felt were abusing drugs, bringing in illegitimate prescriptions or misusing the pharmaceuticals he was providing, as early as 2007, according to the suit.
Ballengee claims he also actively turned away prescriptions from doctors he felt were not providing adequate oversight and patient evaluation and received no controlled substances from McKesson until he entered into an agreement with McKesson in September 2015.
Following the sale of the business and the two CBS telecasts, Ballengee was unable to find full-time employment as a pharmacist due to his destroyed reputation and inability to order controlled pharmaceutical drugs for a pharmacy, according to the suit.
Ballengee claims he has suffered substantial, permanent and irreversible detriment to his professional pharmaceutical reputation as a result of CBS’s actions.
Ballengee is seeking compensatory damages in the amount of $5 million and punitive damages in the amount of $10 million. He is represented by James D. McQueen Jr. and Anthony E. Nortz of McQueen Davis; and Christopher J. Heavens of Heavens Law Firm.
U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia case number: 2:17-cv-00212