A lawsuit by cabbies seeking compensation from UberX drivers in New Orleans is headed to trial, but the ride-booking service’s drivers can stay on the road while the case plays out.
Although both sides in the case declared victory after a hearing Friday before Civil District Court Judge Piper Griffin, the outcome did little to change the status quo. It mainly set up further hearings on whether a set of grievances against Uber amount to unfair competition for cab drivers.
Following lengthy arguments about how state laws governing drivers should come into play in the case, Griffin essentially brokered a deal under which the cab drivers dropped their request for her to block the UberX drivers from working; in return, the court will move on more swiftly to the meat of the case.
Throughout Friday’s hearing, Griffin seemed highly skeptical of arguments by an attorney for the cab drivers that the court has the power to essentially enforce a state law the drivers say requires anyone who picks up fares to have a commercial driver’s license. Many UberX drivers don’t have that license, and that has been the main thrust of the cab drivers’ case so far.
That issue now is expected to come up on appeal to a higher court.
“No matter which way I rule, I understand that I’m not the last step,” Griffin said.
New Orleans cab drivers have been fierce opponents of Uber since before the City Council voted last year to allow the company to operate its UberX service, which relies on amateur drivers in their own vehicles to pick up fares using an app to connect drivers and riders.
That opposition culminated in the drivers’ lawsuit against Uber earlier this year, arguing that the service amounts to unfair competition because it is not required to follow the more stringent requirements placed on traditional cabs. A similar suit has been filed in Jefferson Parish, alleging that UberX drivers are violating parish laws.
Griffin spent most of Friday’s hearing on the question of whether the court can enforce laws — such as the driver’s license requirement — or whether that has to be done by local or state government. In considering a request to block Uber drivers from picking up fares, Griffin indicated that a ruling would be a close call either way.
So rather than delay the case while arguments on that specific issue played out, both sides agreed to a ruling against the cab drivers on that issue so they could move the case along.
Yvette D’Aunoy, attorney for the cab drivers, said she’s prepared to file an expanded set of complaints against Uber drivers, arguing that they are taking business from her clients. In doing so, she suggested she would be introducing arguments that Uber drivers are not following the city’s rules by, for example, picking up fares off the street rather than through the service’s app.
The cab drivers are seeking damages from the UberX drivers directly.
In a statement released after the hearing, Uber spokesman Bill Gibbons called the result “a huge victory.”
“Overall, the outcome today ensures that (Uber) drivers will continue to be able to provide safe, reliable rides in New Orleans,” Gibbons said.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.