Ex-Clemson coach Danny Ford sues SC hemp firm over ruined crop

South Carolina’s experimental hemp program hit a snag this week when two of the chosen farmers — including former Clemson football coach Danny Ford — accused the owner of a Charleston-based hemp company of botching their plants.

Ford and fellow South Carolina farmer Tom Garrison along with three hemp farmers from Alabama are suing Charleston businessman David Bulick and his businesses for negligence and defamation over agreements they entered into in 2018 and 2019 for hemp oil, according to court filings.

Hemp is an agricultural product that comes from the cannabis plant and is often used to create CBD oil.

E. Merritt Farmer Jr., the attorney representing Bulick and his companies, told McClatchy News in a statement Thursday that his client “vigorously denies all of the allegations made in what appears to be a frivolous lawsuit.”

“We look forward to adjudicating this matter along with several counterclaims that will be filed against the plaintiffs,” Farmer said. “Mr. Bulick and his companies have been and continue to be ambassadors for the hemp industry in the State of South Carolina.”

Kyle J. White of White, Davis and White Law Firm, who is representing the farmers, declined to comment on the allegations.

“We believe that accountability is important, particularly in relatively new industries like the South Carolina hemp industry, and we will look forward to pursuing accountability at a jury trial when the time comes,” he said.

According to the complaint filed Monday in Anderson County, Ford and Garrison were targeted by “sales messages and inaccurate promises” from Bulick regarding his ability to transform hemp materials into oil. Bulick owns Charleston Hemp Company LLC and Carolina Botanical Genetics LLC, which are also named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Ford was the head football coach at Clemson University for more than a decade and led the Tigers to a national championship in 1981.

He was selected in 2017 as one of 20 farmers to participate in South Carolina’s Industrial Hemp Pilot Program, under which he can grow hemp on 16 acres in Pickens County, The Island Packet previously reported.

Ford and Garrison made a deal with Bulick in September 2018 to provide hemp plants for oil extraction, the complaint states. Hemp oil is used to treat a variety of ailments — including pain, acne and muscle tension, Medical News Today reported.

The hemp plants were “suitable, adequate, proper, and ideal for extraction and processing” when they were delivered, according to Ford and Garrison. But Bulick “negligently extracted and processed” the plants, causing them to be “contaminated” and “rendered useless and unmarketable,” the lawsuit states.

In the months that followed, Bulick is accused of then publicly questioning Ford and Garrison’s “competence as farmers” and calling them “unfit for their trade.”

“The statements made by the Defendants impugned and impeached the honesty, integrity, virtue and reputation of plaintiffs Ford and Garrison and caused injury and damage to their good names in the community and to their professional reputations, resulting in financial loss, as well as embarrassment and humiliation,” attorneys for the farmers said.

Bulick allegedly repeated a similar process with Alabama farmers Stevie Timm, Jim Huston and Haley Mullen in the spring of 2019.

Timm, Huston and Mullen bought hemp seeds from Bulick that they were expected to grow into plants and return to him to be extracted for oils, the lawsuit states. But the seeds were allegedly “inadequate, contaminated, deficient, and/or otherwise nonviable.”

The group of five farmers make claims for negligence and recklessness, negligent misrepresentation and defamation, libel and slander and are seeking a jury trial, damages and attorneys’ fees.

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Hayley Fowler is a reporter at The Charlotte Observer covering breaking and real-time news across North and South Carolina. She has a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and previously worked as a legal reporter in New York City before joining the Observer in 2019.

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