JONESBORO — Todd Turner grew frustrated with the internet service provider at his Arkadelphia law office. After failing to get his issues resolved, he did what lawyers do.
He sued Suddenlink last July in Clark County Circuit Court.
He’s filed six lawsuits against Altice USA, parent company of Suddenlink, including one Feb. 12 on behalf of the City of Gurden, seeking class-action status for all cities and counties affected.
The lawsuits accuse Suddenlink of breach of contract, unjust enrichment (price-gouging) and violations of the Arkansas Fair Trade Practices Act, among other things.
While the cases directly affect residents in Clark County, it has the potential to bring relief to Suddenlink customers in Jonesboro, the largest city served by Suddenlink, and customers across Arkansas.
In his own lawsuit, Turner said, “Plaintiff has wasted a great deal of time calling and writing letters to Suddenlink,” and “The Plaintiff has wasted paper and postage by writing letters to Suddenlink.”
Turner eventually dropped his lawsuit after signing up with a new internet service provider – Ritter Communications of Jonesboro.
In one of the potential class-action lawsuits, Turner wrote, “The Plaintiffs have had consistent service problems and have experienced service internet outages but have never received a credit to their accounts for the days and hours when they were without service. In other words, Suddenlink consistently bills the Plaintiffs for services even when Suddenlink is not providing those services.”
Suddenlink has sought to have the cases thrown out because of a clause in service agreements requiring out-of-court arbitration. A judge in Arkadelphia rejected that argument, and the company is appealing to the Arkansas Court of Appeals.
“I have yet to see anybody of the bunches of people I have talked to that ever signed any kind of contract,” Turner told The Sun Monday. “But what happens is, if you sue them, then they saw we’ve got this website and we’ve got this arbitration clause on it, and so you can’t sue us; you have to go to arbitration one at a time and that’s your only remedy.” He said customers could potentially win at arbitration but still end up losing money.
Suddenlink moved some of the Clark County lawsuits to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas in hopes of preventing them from being certified as a class-action.
“Plaintiffs received monthly billing statements for their Suddenlink services,” Suddenlink attorneys wrote in their federal court arguments to compel arbitration. “These billing statements make clear that ‘[p]ayment of your bill confirms your acceptance of the Residential Services Agreement, viewable at suddenlink.com/terms-policy.’”
If one were to print out the Residential Services Agreement, including the fine print, it would consume 15 pages of paper.
But Turner said in moving the case to federal court, the company may well have proven it broke the law.
The state’s deceptive trade practices act prohibits “excessive and unjustified increases in the prices of essential consumer goods and services” during a state of emergency, such as the coronavirus pandemic, Turner contends.
“According to an affidavit from a Suddenlink director in another lawsuit, the Defendant has increased charges by more than 10 percent on over 31,000 Arkansas customers since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, 2020,” Turner wrote in Gurdon’s lawsuit. “These increases have resulted in revenue of over $3.6 million from those customers, alone.”
In a July 30, 2020, Altice USA earnings call, its CEO Dexter G. Goei cited a dramatic increase in customers since the beginning of the pandemic. USA Today reported Goei received $53.6 million in compensation in 2018 on $9.3 billion in revenue.
Turner told The Sun customers who choose to drop Suddenlink find themselves receiving more bills to cover the cost of the equipment. That’s because Suddenlink has closed virtually every office outside of Jonesboro. Former customers in Arkadelphia and even El Dorado are advised by bill collectors to bring the equipment to Jonesboro, more than 200 miles away, he said.