Appeals Court Dismisses Uber Drivers’ Lawsuit Challenging City of Seattle Policy

The latest decision in the ongoing dispute over ride-hail policy in the city of Seattle

August 10, 2018

Kevin Schofield

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This story originally ran on SCC Insight.

Kevin Schofield wrote the April 2018 cover story of Seattle Business magazine on the city’s policies on ride-hail businesses like Uber and Lyft. Read the full story here.

This year the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has heard two challenges to the City of Seattles ordinance authorizing collective bargaining for Uber and Lyft drivers. One was filed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the other by a group of Uber and Lyft drivers.

After back-to-back oral arguments in February, the appeals court ruled on the Chamber of Commerce case in May; it found that the ordinance was not exempt from the Sherman Antitrust Act. Today it handed down its ruling in the second case, affirming the district courts dismissal of the case a win for the city.

Todays case was filed on behalf of Uber and Lyft drivers, who argued that requiring TNC companies to turn over a list of their drivers to an organization trying to become an Exclusive Driver Representative (EDR) violates the drivers privacy, and that certifying an EDR would result in a contract that binds their relationship with the TNCs.

Courts are only allowed to hear cases that involve live controversies where a concrete injury has already occurred or will imminently occur with full certainty. They cant wade into speculation about possible future outcomes. The appeals court affirmed the district courts finding that both of the drivers are not ripe for adjudication:

  • The information that the TNC companies must hand over to potential EDRs is a subset of the information that the drivers must submit to gain a business license, and the drivers have not identified any particular injury that will befall them because the information is passed. Speculation about future possible injuries is not sufficient.
  • An EDR has not been certified, and may never be since it requires an organization to enlist the support of a majority of drivers. So at this point its pure speculation that a contract that binds the drivers will one day exist.

With the appeals courts ruling today, the drivers case is dismissed without prejudice, meaning that at a future point in time if an EDR is certified, they could refile their case. But for now its done (unless they choose to appeal further up the line).

But lest anyone think the city is clear, the Chamber of Commerce case goes on; the appeals court sent it back down for further proceedings in May, and without an exemption the city will have a difficult time showing that it doesnt violate the Sherman Act. Uber has also filed a separate case in King County Superior Court; that case has been stayed until a similar case is resolved.

This is still a long way probably years from getting resolved. To that end, the City Attorneys Office released a statement in response to the ruling: Were pleased that the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the Clark plaintiffs complaint, but were aware the conversation likely isnt over yet.