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Craig v. CenturyLink Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division

October 20, 2017

BENJAMIN CRAIG (LEAD CASE)
v.
CENTURYLINK INC., et al. DON J. SCOTT
v.
CENTURYLINK INC., et al. AMARENDRA THUMMETI
v.
CENTURYLINK INC., et al.

          HICKS JUDGE.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

          Joseph H.L. Perez-Montes United States Magistrate Judge.

         Potential class plaintiffs filed Motions to Appoint Lead Plaintiff and Lead Counsel (Docs. 25, 26, 28, 29) in three consolidated cases against CenturyLink and other Defendants for violations of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The State of Oregon's motion to be appointed Lead Plaintiff (Doc. 28) is GRANTED. The State of Oregon's motion to appoint Bernstein, Litowitz, Berger & Grossman, L.L.P. and Stoll Berne[1] as Co-Lead Counsel (Doc. 28) is also GRANTED. The remaining motions (Docs. 25, 26, 29) are DENIED.

         I. Background

         Before the Court is a complaint filed pursuant to the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (15 U.S.C. § 78aa, et seq.) by Plaintiff Benjamin Craig (“Craig”), individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated. The named defendants are CenturyLink Inc. (“CenturyLink”) (its common stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange (“NYSE”)), Glen F. Post III (“Post”) (the CEO and President of CenturyLink Inc. at all relevant times, and R. Stewart Ewing, Jr. (“Ewing”) (CFO, Executive Vice President, and Assistant Secretary of CenturyLink Inc. at all relevant times).

         Craig alleges a federal securities class action pursuant to on behalf of all investors who purchased or otherwise acquired CenturyLink common stock between March 1, 2013 and June 16, 2017 (the “Class Period”). Craig alleges that CenturyLink publicly issued materially false and misleading statements and omitted material facts regarding its compliance with applicable laws and regulations, causing its stock prices to artificially inflate. Craig alleges that he and other investors suffered significant losses and damages when the truth as to CenturyLink's unlawful business practices emerged and its stock prices fell. Craig seeks certification of the class action, appointment of himself as class representative, appointment of his attorney as lead counsel, a jury trial, compensatory damages, costs (including expert fees), attorney fees, and injunctive relief.[2]

         Three related stockholder suits have been filed: Don J. Scott (“Scott”) filed Scott v. CenturyLink, No. 17-1033 (W.D. La.)[3]; Amarendra Thummeti filed Thummeti v. CenturyLink, et al., 3:17-cv-01065 (W.D. La.); and Michael Barbree and Glen Walker filed Barbree, et al. v. Bejar, et al., No. 3:17-cv-01177 (W.D. La.). Barbree has since been voluntarily dismissed (Barbree, No. 3:17-cv-01177, Doc. 3). Thus, to date, there are three stockholder actions against CenturyLink in the Western District of Louisiana.

         The Thummetti case was filed first, on June 21, 2017. Attorney Jeremy Alan Lieberman of the Pomerantz Law Firm published a notice of the proposed class action in the Globe Newswire on June 21, 2017 (See Craig, No. 17-1005, Doc. 25-5).[4]

         Four Motions to Appoint Lead Plaintiff have been filed by potential class plaintiffs in the Craig case: KBC Asset Management NV (“KBC”) (Doc. 25); the Police and Fire Retirement System of the City of Detroit and the Laborer's Pension Trust Fund-Detroit and Vicinity (Doc. 26) (“Detroit”); the State of Oregon on behalf of the Oregon Public Employees Retirement Fund (Doc. 28) (“Oregon”); and Amalgamated Bank, as Trustee for the Long View Collective Investment Fund (Doc. 29) (“Amalgamated Bank”).[5] Other potential plaintiffs are Sona Andresian (Docs. 21, 35), Mark D. Alger, Allen Feldman, Art Kleppen, Essex Lacy, and Tae Yi (Docs. 22, 41).[6]

         The Movants' motions to appoint Lead Plaintiff are now before the Court for disposition, and are set for hearing on October 25, 2017. Since filing those motions, Oregon and KBC filed a Joint Motion to Continue the Motion Hearing (Doc. 75). That motion is considered first below.

         II. Law and Analysis

         A. The Joint Motion to Continue the Motion Hearing is denied.

         Oregon and KBC filed a Joint Motion to Continue the Motion Hearing (Doc. 75) which is opposed by Defendants (Doc. 77).

         The Joint Motion to Continue (Doc. 75) is hereby DENIED. The joint movants seek a continuance principally because, on October 6, 2017, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (the "Panel") issued a Conditional Transfer Order ("CTO") conditionally transferring these securities actions to the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota. But as correctly noted by Defendant, the CTO is merely “an administrative act of the Clerk which can be and will be vacated upon the showing of good cause by any party.” In re Grain Shipments, 319 F.Supp. 533, 534 (J.P.M.L.1970). Neither the PSLRA nor the balance of jurisprudential authority indicate that the CTO requires a continuance or stay of this litigation. See Panel Rule 2.1(d); see also e.g., Khunt v. Alibaba Grp. Holding Ltd., 102 F.Supp.3d 523, 530 (S.D.N.Y.2015); In re Duke Energy Corp. Sec. Litig., 02 CIV.3960 JSR, 2002 WL 1933798, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 20, 2002).

         However, the Court further finds that a hearing is not affirmatively required, and would not meaningfully aid in the Court's decision regarding the competing motions to approve a lead plaintiff. In the interest of efficiency, therefore, the October 25, 2017 hearing is hereby CANCELED.

         B. Oregon is appointed as Lead Plaintiff.

         According to 15 U.S.C. § 78u4(a)(3)(B)(ii), “[i]f more than one action on behalf of a class asserting substantially the same claim or claims arising under this chapter has been filed, and any party has sought to consolidate those actions for pretrial purposes or for trial, the court shall not make the determination required by clause (i) until after the decision on the motion to consolidate is rendered. As soon as practicable after such decision is rendered, the court ...


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