Uber Seeks A Protective Order to Block All Public Disclosure of Whether It Complies With Law

A group of San Francisco taxi drivers, who have undergone police background checks, drive cars with meters that have regulated rates to prevent consumer gouging, have the Statutorily required insurance to protect passengers as well as third parties in the event of an accident, and drive vehicles that have undergone periodic safety checks, all of which is required by law, are suing Uber on the basis it is a transportation company who has gained an unfair advantage by not complying with the law (e.g. not having insurance, not having the expense of inspecting and maintaining vehicles, or complying with other statutory requirements), and taken customers from the cabbies who are following the law.  (See San Francisco Superior Court NO. CGC 12-526017)

In the course of this case, Plaintiffs have sought information by way of written requests called Interrogatories and Requests for Production of Documents from Uber as to whether or not it has insurance, whether it does background checks, whether it inspects cars, etc.

Uber has refused to provide the information and has filed with the court for a Protective Order, stating: “Uber makes this motion on the grounds that the protective order Uber seeks is necessary to protect Uber from competitive injury resulting from the public disclosure of confidential information and documents produced in the course of discovery.”  Uber has asked the Court to make all materials “confidential” and place the burden on the drivers to seek Court intervention to overturn Uber’s confidentiality designation. Under the guise of protecting its competitive secrets from its competitors,  Uber seeks to blanket every aspect of its operation, including those designed to protect consumers and for which there is no competitive injury if the truth be known.  If Uber is successful, limited information will be turned over but the parties cannot disclose it and the public cannot learn if Uber has insurance, checks drivers, inspects cars, etc.

Does the public have the right to know if the Uber driver passed a police background check?

Does the public have the right to know if the Uber provided driver’s vehicle has the minimum $750,000 in insurance required by law? (Cabs usually have one million)

Does the public have the right to know if the Uber driver passed a police background check?

Does the public have the right to know if the Uber provided vehicle meets safety requirements?

San Francisco Transportation Code (“SF Code”) Article 1100 regulates motor vehicles for hire. Section 1101, subdivision (b), states that the “Purposes of [the] Regulations” are “to require all persons, businesses or corporations holding permits issued pursuant to this Article to take steps to improve taxi service to the public and to protect the public health and safety when providing such service.  By adopting this Article, the SFMTA is assuming an undertaking to promote the general welfare.” The SF Code then goes on to list countless regulations that implement this goal of protecting the public, including requiring drivers to: (1) successfully complete a SFMTA-approved driver training course (§ 1103, subd. (c)(1)(D)); (2) have no prior convictions that would present a risk to public safety (§ 1103, subd. (c)(2)(F)); (3) maintain the taxis in safe operating condition (§ 1113, subd. (a)(1)); and (4) carry adequate insurance (§ 1113, subd. (s)(1)(C). It is through these regulations that the SFMTA protects the public interest and promotes the general welfare.

The CPUC regulations pertaining to charter-party carriers are also grounded in protecting public interest. Division Two, Chapter Eight of the California Public Utilities Code (“PUC”) governs Charter-Party Carriers of Passengers, stating “[t]he use of the public highways for the transportation of passengers for compensation is a business affected with a public interest. It is the purpose of this chapter to preserve for the public full benefit and use of the public highways . . .” and “to promote carrier and public safety through its safety enforcement regulations.” (Emphasis added.)  The PUC acknowledges the need for standards governing charter-party carriers, as “[u]nlicensed charter-party carriers of passengers have exposed citizens of the state to unscrupulous persons” who “operate[ ] their vehicles without insurance or in an unsafe manner, placing the citizens of this state at risk.” § 5371.6, subd. (a). Similar to the SFMTA, the CPUC implements their goal of promoting public safety through the various regulations, including requiring the carrier to: (1) have a preventive maintenance program in effect for its vehicles (§ 5364, subd. (a)(1)(C)); (2) participate in a program to regularly check the driving records of all persons operating vehicles for compensation (§ 5364, subd. (a)(1)(D)); (3) have safety education and training programs in effect for employees operating vehicles (§ 5364, subd. (a)(1)(E)); (4) have a mandatory controlled substance and alcohol testing of drivers (§ 5364, subd. (a)(1)(I)). The PUC also requires charter-party carriers to carry sufficient insurance in the case of injury or death to the passenger and damage or destruction of property. (§ 5391.)  It is through these regulations and requirements that the CPUC regulates charter-party carriers for the public interest and general welfare.

If Uber’s request is granted the public would be prevented from knowing if Uber has complied with the law, has insurance, does background checks on drivers, information about the maintenance of the vehicles, etc.

The drivers, who are represented by The Brandi Law Firm, oppose Uber’s attempts to invoke a cloak of silence on its actions, because the public has the right to know if Uber cars are properly insured, if they meet safety requirements, if the drivers have passed police background checks, and if Uber is playing by the same rules as other transportation providers.  The San Francisco taxi drivers are not seeking to use this information to start a competitive company. They simply want to ensure that the playing field is level, and that Uber, with its wealthy backers and powerful political connections, plays by the same rules as the drivers.

If you would like more information on this case, please contact The Brandi Law Firm at tjb@brandilaw.com.