'Your Class Action Is Very Important to Us ...'

     AUSTIN (CN) - Plaintiffs in an $80 million class action against Southwestern Bell Telephone say they are stuck in a legal "black hole" because the Texas Supreme Court refuses to rule on a more than 4-year-old appeal. Marketing On Hold, which audits telephone services, and the Harris County Hospital District sued the Texas Supreme Court's nine justices in Federal Court to compel a decision.
     The plaintiffs filed the original complaint in 2000, alleging that the phone company overcharged more than 6,000 customers.
     The current interlocutory appeal process began with an appeal more than 7 years ago, in which Southwestern Bell questioned the trial court's certification of the class.
     The appellate court affirmed certification, and the question has been pending before the Texas Supreme Court for more than 4 years, the plaintiffs say.
     "Plaintiffs are stuck in a black hole with the inability to appeal their constitutional deprivation to the United States Supreme Court while they are frozen in an interlocutory appeal," the complaint states.
     The case is stayed until the court rules, so discovery cannot go forward. The plaintiffs say they are worried that critical evidence will be destroyed because Southwestern Bell keeps customer billing records for only "12 years or less."
     "The longer the plaintiffs' case is delayed, the greater the likelihood that records will be destroyed, especially records not yet discovered or requested," the complaint states.
     The plaintiffs seek declaratory relief stating that the delay has deprived the class of its constitutional rights. They are represented by Thomas Bray of Houston.