Tuesday, September 8, 2020
By a MetNews Staff Writer
An Uber driver who picks up and drops off passengers at airports is not exempt from arbitration of his putative class action against the San Francisco-based Uber Technologies, Inc. on the ground that under the Federal Arbitration Act, persons “engaged in foreign or interstate commerce” may have their disputes decided by courts, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held Friday.
Circuit Judge Consuelo M. Callahan wrote the opinion, filed Friday, denying driver William Grice’s petition for writ of mandamus. Senior Circuit Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain and District Court Judge Michael H. Watson of the Southern District of Ohio, sitting by designation, joined in the opinion.
Grice is suing the rideshare company for allegedly mishandling personal data of drivers.
The order compelling arbitration issued by District Court Chief Judge Phillip S. Gutierrez of the Central District of California “cannot be clearly erroneous”—a prerequisite for relief in mandate—Callahan said, explaining:
“Where no prior Ninth Circuit authority prohibits the district court’s ruling, or where the issue in question has not yet been addressed by any circuit court in a published opinion, the ruling cannot be clearly erroneous.”
The Uber driver relied on 9 U.S.C. §1, a portion of the Federal Arbitration Act, which exempts from arbitration “seamen,” “railroad employees,” and “any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” He claims to be in the residual category.
That category, the Third Circuit held last year in Singh v. Uber Technologies, Inc., “is not limited to transportation workers who transport goods, but may also apply to those who transport passengers, so long as they are engaged in interstate commerce or in work so closely related thereto as to be in practical effect part of it.”
The Third Circuit vacated an order that an Uber driver’s action against the ride-sharing company be arbitrated but, Callahan pointed out, it did not find §1 to be applicable, but merely remanded for a determination by the District Court.
Yellow Cab Case
Callahan found support for Uber’s position in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1947 decision in United States v. Yellow Cab. There, it was held that local taxi service for interstate travelers between train stations “is clearly a part of the stream of interstate commerce.”
But, the opinion said, “when local taxicabs merely convey interstate train passengers between their homes and the railroad station in the normal course of their independent local service, that service is not an integral part of interstate transportation.”
Callahan likened Grice, a resident of Alabama, to a cab driver transporting passengers between their homes and a station. She explained:
“Although Uber entered into agreements with the Huntsville and Birmingham airports to allow Uber drivers like Grice to pick up arriving passengers, Grice does not contend that his passengers contracted with the airlines to hire him. Nor is there any evidence that Grice provided ‘between-airport transportation’ in Huntsville and Birmingham to facilitate his passengers’ interstate travel. Thus, Yellow Cab, like Singh, supports rather than undermines the district court’s rationale for denying Grice’s §1 argument.”
The jurist noted:
“In the course of his work. Grice never crosses state lines. Thus. Grice’s passengers travel interstate (by virtue of the flights they take), but Grice does not.”
The case is In re Grice, 20-70780.
Counsel for Uber included Theane Evangelis of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in Los Angeles and Vassi Iliadis of Hogan Lovells in Los Angeles.
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