JONESBORO — Customers suing the owners of cable provider Suddenlink want the Arkansas Supreme Court to weigh in on a federal lawsuit over the company’s business practices.
The City of Gurden and individual customers of Suddenlink in the Arkadelphia area filed separate lawsuits in Clark County Circuit Court last fall, accusing Suddenlink of breach of contract, unjust enrichment (price-gouging) and violations of the Arkansas Fair Trade Practices Act, among other things.
The lawsuit affects customers in Northeast Arkansas because they seek class-action status, which has the potential to bring relief to Suddenlink customers in Jonesboro, the largest city served by Suddenlink, and customers across Arkansas.
In a motion filed Monday in one of the cases, attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Robert T. Dawson in the Western District of Arkansas to submit five questions to the state Supreme Court.
Among the questions was whether Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s executive order March 11, 2020, and President Donald Trump’s declaration of national emergency “result from a natural disaster” for purposes of the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The act bars price increases over 10 percent during such emergencies.
Another question asks whether Suddenlink’s high-speed internet, digital TV, voice services or advanced home security were “services” governed by the Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
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.
The customers’ lawsuit contends Suddenlink emgaged in price-goughing.
“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,” attorney Todd Turner wrote in Gurdon’s lawsuit. “These increases have resulted in revenue of over $3.6 million from those customers, alone.”
Other questions involve the validity of Suddenlink’s contracts. Suddenlink contends its contracts require individual customers to submit to arbitration and bars class-action lawsuits.
Federal courts regularly submit questions to the Arkansas Supreme Court to avoid conflicts between federal and state courts.
The complaints were initially filed in Clark County Circuit Court in Arkadelphia, but Suddenlink exercised its option to move it to the federal court. Dawson ruled March 23 Altice USA, Suddenlink’s owner, was within its right to do so because it’s an out-of-state company.