Byline: Pat Murphy
A Superior Court judge has reversed course nearly two years after ordering arbitration of a dispute between Uber Technologies and a blind lawyer from West Newton who claims he was unlawfully denied the services of the ride-sharing company because of his guide dog, Wally.
Judge Douglas H. Wilkins granted plaintiff Christopher P. Kauders' motion for reconsideration of a 2017 order compelling arbitration of disability discrimination, Chapter 93A and intentional tort claims.
The plaintiff sued Uber in 2016 claiming that he was denied service three separate times in 2015 and 2016 when drivers refused to allow him into their vehicles with Wally. Specifically, the complaint filed in Suffolk Superior Court alleged that the drivers' actions violated state law prohibiting discrimination against guide dog users.
Uber moved to compel arbitration under a contract that Kauders and/or family members agreed to when registering for service online. Wilkins granted the order and twice denied the plaintiff's motion for reconsideration before the case proceeded to arbitration. An arbitrator ultimately decided that, while the drivers who actually denied Kauders service violated state law, Uber the company lacked a sufficient connection to the drivers to be liable.
Fresh off its win, Uber went back to Suffolk Superior Court and moved for confirmation of the arbitration award. That prompted the plaintiff to file a third motion for reconsideration of the 2017 order to compel in November.
So why was the third time the charm? As Wilkins put it, he had "serious concerns" about ordering arbitration all along, but ultimately felt compelled to fall in line with "sweeping federal decisions" upholding the force of Federal Arbitration Act preemption.
That all changed because, while the parties were in arbitration, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the arbitration clause in the online contract that consumers agreed to when they used Uber's iPhone app to hail rides.
The 1st Circuit in its June 2018 decision in Cullinane v. Uber Technologies, Inc. overturned an order compelling the arbitration of a Massachusetts consumer class action claiming the ride-sharing service violated state law by allegedly imposing fictitious or inflated fees. The court ruled that Uber's online registration process did not ensure...