A Beverly Hills doctor is seeking more than $22 million in damages from business intelligence giant Dun & Bradstreet, claiming the New Jersey-based company defamed him by falsely documenting an arrest for sending sexually explicit material to an undercover cop posing as a teenager.
Dr. Jonathan Ellis, a gastroenterologist, filed the lawsuit against Dun & Bradstreet in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on Dec. 3.
The company didn’t respond to a request for comment Friday, and it was not clear as of Friday whether Dun & Bradstreet, which is based in Short Hills, New Jersey, had been served with a copy of the complaint.
The lawsuit claims Ellis, the owner and chief executive officer of Doheny Endosurgical Center in Beverly Hills, was defamed when Dun & Bradstreet, in a report issued to credit service companies, as well as suppliers and other businesses, said Ellis had been arrested on four counts of distributing child pornography to a minor. The report cited media reports from last April, according to the complaint.
However, the Dun & Bradstreet report was erroneous. The arrest, according to the lawsuit, involved another doctor, a general practitioner with the same last name but a differently spelled first name who, at least at the time, practiced at College Medical Center in Long Beach, California. That doctor allegedly sent pornographic material to an undercover officer posing as a 16-year-old girl, according to reports in the Long Beach Patch and a local NBC affiliate, both quoting the Los Angeles Police Department.
Plaintiff Ellis is represented by Erik Syverson of Syverson, Lesowitz & Gebelin in Los Angeles.
Syverson said Dun & Bradstreet corrected the report, but not before the original, erroneous report had been distributed throughout the Southern California business community.
By then, the lawsuit said, the damage to the plaintiff had been done.
“This matter concerns the egregious and completely false defamation of a highly respected and well-regarded gastroenterologist,” the lawsuit alleged.
“As a result of the outrageous and toxic defamation, Dr. Ellis has suffered and continues to suffer extraordinary damages to his personal and professional reputation, emotional distress and significant economic losses,” the complaint said.
Ellis is a graduate of Stanford University and its medical school and an adjunct professor at UCLA’s Geffen School of Medicine.
The lawsuit said Dun & Bradstreet failed to conduct a proper investigation before publishing the arrest notice.
“Even a minimal amount of investigation” would have revealed the conflicting information, the lawsuit said, alleging libel and false light publicity, and seeking $15 million in economic damages, $7.5 million in special damages, and an unspecified amount of punitive damages.
Syverson said professionals such as Ellis rely on companies such as Dun & Bradstreet to disseminate correct information.
“This case will put the business practices of Dun & Bradstreet on trial,” Syverson said, adding that the company’s notice was “reckless and frivolous.”
“They don’t verify information, and we will expose them,” Syverson said.