INLAND FAMILY PRACTICE CENTER, LLC, AND IKECHUKWU OKORIE, M.D.
SALLIE M. AMERSON
OF JUDGMENT: 08/01/2017
FORREST COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. JON MARK WEATHERS TRIAL
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: CHARLES EDWARD COWAN R. MARK HODGES
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: SALLIE M. AMERSON (PRO SE)
RANDOLPH, P.J., KING AND ISHEE, JJ.
Sallie Amerson sued Inland Family Clinic LLC and Dr.
Ikechukwu Okorie over an allegedly defamatory statement Dr.
Okorie made to another physician concerning Amerson's
apparent use of illegal drugs. The Defendants moved for
summary judgment, contending the statements were privileged,
but the Forrest County Circuit Court denied the motion.
Inland and Dr. Okorie petitioned this Court for interlocutory
review, which we granted. After due consideration, we reverse
the decision of the circuit court and render summary judgment
in favor of Inland and Dr. Okorie.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Inland is a family clinic located in Hattiesburg,
Mississippi, owned and operated by Dr. Okorie. Amerson was a
patient of Dr. Okorie's from April 2011 to March 2013.
Amerson suffers from a variety of ailments, including chronic
back pain for which Dr. Okorie prescribed opioid (narcotic)
pain medications. Since opioids are notoriously addictive and
can readily be resold on the black market, Amerson was
required to comply with Inland's "Pain Management
Policy." The policy informed Amerson that if she were to
violate its terms, Dr. Okorie "may stop prescribing
[the] pain-control medications." Specifically, it was an
express violation of the policy for Amerson to use "any
illegal substances." She was required to submit to
monthly drug screenings, performed by an outside lab, which
tested for illegal or non-prescribed drugs. Amerson signed
In February 2013, Amerson tested positive for amphetamines
and methadone-two drugs for which she had no prescription.
Dr. Okorie then informed Amerson he would no longer prescribe
her narcotics; Dr. Okorie's notes reflect that his
decision was based on Amerson's "prior . . . and
present history of taking a non-prescribed
narcotic." While Dr. Okorie offered to continue
treating Amerson for her other ailments, he referred her to
Dr. Joseph Farina for treatment of her chronic back pain.
Amerson visited Dr. Farina in March 2013, but Dr. Farina
refused to prescribe narcotics after discovering that Amerson
had already depleted her existing prescription, just sixteen
days after it had been filled. That same day, Amerson
returned to Dr. Okorie seeking narcotics, which Dr. Okorie
again refused to prescribe. A week later, Amerson visited Dr.
Jeffery Morris. Dr. Morris had treated Amerson for certain
ailments dating back roughly to 2010. Dr. Morris informed
Amerson he would need her medical records from Dr. Okorie
before he could prescribe anything for her back pain.
While awaiting Dr. Morris's decision, Amerson again
returned to Dr. Okorie. Amerson submitted to another drug
screening, and she again tested positive for amphetamines and
methadone. Dr. Okorie refused to prescribe Amerson narcotic
medications a third time, and Amerson did not visit him
again. Then, in early April 2013, Amerson was informed by Dr.
Morris's office that he would not prescribe narcotic
medications based on Dr. Okorie's statement to him that
Amerson had tested positive for "amphetamines and
methamphetamines." Dr. Morris conveyed the same to one
of his nurses, Hope West, who recorded Dr. Morris's
comments on a faxed copy of Amerson's lab results. West
wrote that "Dr. Okorie stated he wasn't writing her
narcotics due to being positive for amphetamines [and]
methamphetamines" and "[patient] notified
Apparently, Dr. Okorie was mistaken when he said Amerson
tested positive for methamphetamines; the correct
interpretation of Amerson's drug test report was that she
had tested positive for methadone. Methamphetamines would not
have shown up separately in the results as they fell under
the "amphetamine" heading. Claiming that Dr.
Okorie's statement to Dr. Morris was false and
defamatory, Amerson filed her complaint in June 2013. The
crux of her complaint alleged that Dr. Okorie had defamed her
by telling others she had used illegal drugs, and, as a
result, she suffered personal and economic injuries.
Ultimately, Inland and Dr. Okorie moved for summary judgment,
arguing that Dr. Okorie's statement to Dr. Morris was
protected by a qualified privilege. The circuit court found
genuine issues of material fact remained as to the nature and
content of the statement, and it denied summary judgment.