CenturyLink is trying to force customers into arbitration in order to avoid a class-action lawsuit from subscribers who say they’ve been charged for services they didn’t order. To do so, CenturyLink has come up with a surprising argument—the company says it doesn’t have any customers. While the customers sued CenturyLink itself, the company says the customers weren’t actually customers of CenturyLink. Instead, CenturyLink says they were customers of 10 subsidiaries spread through the country. CenturyLink basically doesn’t exist as a service provider—according to a brief CenturyLink filed Monday.
“That sole defendant, CenturyLink, Inc., is a parent holding company that has no customers, provides no services and engaged in none of the acts or transactions about which Plaintiffs complain,” CenturyLink wrote. “There is no valid basis for Defendant to be a party in this Proceeding: Plaintiffs contracted with the Operating Companies to purchase, use, and pay for the services at issue, not with CenturyLink, Inc.” CenturyLink says those operating companies should be able to intervene in the case and “enforce class-action waivers,” which would force the customers to pursue their claims via arbitration instead of in a class-action lawsuit. By suing CenturyLink instead of the subsidiaries, “it may be that Plaintiffs are hoping to avoid the arbitration and class-action waiver provisions,” CenturyLink wrote.
Like other traditional phone companies, such as AT&T, CenturyLink does business through numerous local entities. In this case, the CenturyLink subsidiaries are Qwest Corporation; Embarq Florida, Inc.; Embarq Missouri, Inc.; Carolina Telephone and Telegraph Company LLC; Central Telephone Company; CenturyTel of Idaho, Inc.; CenturyTel of Larsen-Readfield, LLC; CenturyTel of Washington, Inc.; CenturyTel Broadband Services, LLC; and Qwest Broadband Services, Inc.
Internet, phone, and TV customers deal with CenturyLink, though—the old URLs for Qwest and Embarq simply redirect to CenturyLink.com, for example. CenturyLink also filed a motion to halt discovery in the case until after the arbitration question is decided by the court. CenturyLink wants to “stop the case and let us bring in these entities no one’s ever heard of,” plaintiffs’ attorney Benjamin Meiselas told Ars today. Meiselas said it is “a fiction” that CenturyLink is merely a collection of subsidiaries “that consumers don’t even know exist.”