Hollywood Docket: CBS Sued for Defamation; Ed Sheeran Can't Dodge 'Photograph' Suit

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A West Virginia pharmacy owner says CBS newscasts maliciously made him the face of the West Virginia painkiller epidemic and put him out of business, according to a $15 million lawsuit filed in West Virginia federal court. 

Samuel Ballengee is suing CBS, anchors Scott Pelley and Jim Axelrod and producer Ashley Velie, claiming they knowingly published false statements about him during multiple CBS Evening News broadcasts.

Ballengee says Tug Valley Pharmacy, which he opened in 2007, was involved in civil litigation in 2010, 2011 and 2012 when several area doctors and pharmacies were sued by customers and/or patients. He says he was able to keep his business and reputation intact during the litigation, which is still pending.

But beginning in January 2016, CBS Evening News ran a series of stories about a painkiller epidemic in West Virginia, and specifically mentioned that Tug Valley was being sued for negligently filling prescriptions.

Ballengee claims CBS 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" and was "intentionally contributing to drug addiction to profit from the addiction."

He says the statements caused pharmaceutical suppliers to cut ties with Tug Valley and he was personally labeled as "non-rebateable," which according to the complaint means any distributors who worked with him would face backlash from drug manufacturers.

Eventually, he says he sold his business for $900,000 despite a valuation of $2.2 million. "The sale of the business saved the jobs of [Ballengee's] employees, but left [him] with a damaged professional reputation, a damaged personal reputation, without a job, without a source of income, and without a business he had built from the ground up," states the complaint. (Read it in full here.)

Ballengee is suing for defamation, false light, tortious interference and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He's seeking at least $15 million in damages and an injunction preventing CBS from continuing to disseminate the false statements and ordering the company to issue a retraction or apology.

CBS has not yet replied to a request for comment.

In other entertainment law news:

— A California federal judge has denied a motion to dismiss a copyright infringement lawsuit against Ed Sheeran over his song "Photograph." Songwriters Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard and publisher HaloSongs sued Sheeran and a host of record companies in June, claiming his hit derives from their 2009 song "Amazing." Lawyers for the defendants filed multiple motions to dismiss the complaint in October, arguing both that the lawsuit contains "breathtakingly long paragraphs" without direction to each of the 11 defendants in supposed defiance of procedural rules and also raised jurisdictional issues because several of the defendants are based in the U.K. HaloSongs then filed a motion to stay the U.K. defendants' motion to dismiss pending jurisdictional discovery. U.S. District Judge James Selna agreed to pause the dispute in favor of such discovery, but otherwise has rejected the defendants' attempt to use bulkiness as an excuse to escape the lawsuit. 

— A lawsuit claiming Ivanhoe Pictures was launched through conspiracy quietly settled over the holidays. Odessa Rae sued Ivanhoe in 2015, claiming her once-partner John Penotti conspired with Robert Friedland to shut her out of the company after she introduced the two men. While full details of the settlement have not yet been announced, an attorney for Rae tells The Hollywood Reporter Rae has a development deal with Ivanhoe Pictures and the parties are looking forward to working together.

— A Virginia television station has beat, at least for now, several libel claims in a lawsuit that alleges it falsely labeled a man a rapist. Jason Dangerfield filed a $3 million libel suit against WAVY Broadcasting, Lin Television and Media General in June. He claims WAVY falsely reported that Hampton police arrested him on an accusation of rape. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss arguing, among other things, that the inaccuracy about Dangerfield's arrest was too minor to support a defamation claim. U.S. District Judge Mark Davis granted without prejudice the dismissal of libel per se and libel per quod claims relating to statements that Dangerfield was accused of rape. "While the word 'accused' may mean someone who has been formally indicted on criminal charges, it also broadly means '[s]omeone who has been blamed for wrongdoing," writes Davis. "Because the Newport News police blamed Plaintiff for rape in the search warrant papers, Defendants' broadcast report that Plaintiff was 'accused of rape' is substantially accurate, and thus is not an actionable statement of defamation." However, Davis denied the motion to dismiss a portion of the libel claim referencing reports that Dangerfield was arrested for rape. (Read the full order here.)

— Prospect Park Networks and ABC have settled their $95 million dispute over the relaunch of One Life to Live and All My Children. The soaps producer sued the network in 2013, claiming it was sabotaging efforts to re-launch the series online. Details of the settlement are scarce, but ABC reportedly regained the rights to the two series.