PHILADELPHIA (CN) - In a partial win for beleaguered cab companies, a judge on Monday ruled that 45 Philadelphia taxi outfits can continue their suit against Uber but dismissed claims against Google, an Uber investor.
The cab companies sued Uber and Google in December 2014 in the largest suit against the startup to date, calling Uber an "illegal gypsy cab operation." They claim that tweets and emails sent out by the Uber about taxi drivers' lack of insurance and higher fares constituted false advertising.
Specifically, Uber sent an email blast to users in October 2014, the same week that First Keystone Risk Retention, the largest taxi insurer in the country, went bankrupt. The email said that "there is no guarantee that your taxicab will be insured," and a similar message was conveyed in tweets sent by Uber and general manager Jon Feldman, according to the ruling.
Uber also published a blog post with side-by-side comparisons of fares of Uber and cab companies showing that Uber rides were 20 percent cheaper.
In her ruling allowing the cabbies' claims of false advertising to continue, U.S. District Judge Nitza Quinones Alejandro wrote that cabbies were actually still insured by First Keystone until November 20 that year, about a month after Uber sent its email.
"Uber's statements expressly suggesting that the insurance policies had been terminated or cancelled as of 5:00 p.m. on Oct. 24, 2014, were literally false," she wrote.
She added, "While these allegations are sparse with respect to specifics, giving plaintiffs the benefit of all reasonable inferences, this court finds that plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that they lost taxicab fares as a direct result of defendants' alleged misrepresentations regarding plaintiffs' insured status."
However, Alejandro dismissed the claims over the fare comparisons, writing that the taxis did not actually dispute that Uber had lower fares.
The judge also dismissed all claims involving the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, saying that the isolated incidents of the blog post, emails and tweets were insufficient to establish a longstanding pattern of behavior.
And she dismissed all claims against Google, which filed its own motion to dismiss.
While the decision gives the cab companies an angle to pursue an attack against the increasingly dominant Uber, it's also the latest in a series of cases thwarting cabbies' efforts to nail the company for skirting state and local regulations that require taxis to go through traditional medallion systems.
Alejandro, citing recent cases in Illinois, ruled that the cabs couldn't use federal unfair competition laws to make Uber follow what are typically local regulations.
An Uber representative hailed Alejandro's ruling, saying, "In a major victory for riders and drivers, the court has categorically rejected this latest attempt by taxi medallion owners to stop ridesharing in Philadelphia. Uber will continue to serve all Pennsylvanians by providing access to safe, reliable rides at the push of a button."
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