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Gorne v. Uber Technologies Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

October 21, 2019

BRIAN GORNE, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UBER TECHNOLOGIES, INC., et al., Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          MICHELLE L. PETERSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Before the Court is Defendant Uber Technologies, Inc.'s (“Defendant” or “Uber”) motion regarding choice of law and to dismiss Plaintiffs' action pursuant to Federal Rule Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and 9(b). (Dkt. # 7 (“Uber Mot.”).) This matter arises out of injuries Plaintiff Brian Gorne sustained after being stabbed by an Uber driver, Sharif Soajima, in Seattle, Washington on October 1, 2017. Plaintiff Brian Gorne and his wife Adrienne Walker claim Uber was negligent for hiring, supervising, and retaining the services of Mr. Soajima, a convicted felon. Plaintiffs also claim Uber made fraudulent misrepresentations regarding its safety protocols, background checks for its drivers, and the safety of Uber rides for passengers. Plaintiffs submitted an opposition (dkt. # 16 (“Opp'n”)) and Uber submitted a reply (dkt # 18 (“Reply”)). Oral argument was held on October 16, 2019. (Dkt. # 20.) The Court, having reviewed the parties' submissions, supporting documents, the governing law, and the balance of the record, recommends that Defendant's motion (dkt. # 7) be DENIED.

         II. BACKGROUND

         For the purpose of deciding the instant motion, the Court considers the following facts from Plaintiffs' complaint. Uber is a transportation company that is incorporated in Delaware and maintains its principal place of business in California. (Dkt. # 1 (“Compl.”) at ¶¶ 5.1, 4.2.) Uber provides a software application called the Uber application (“Uber App”) which customers can download with a smartphone and use to request rides from Uber drivers. (Id. at ¶¶ 5.1, 5.66.) Neither drivers nor riders are charged a fee to download the Uber App. (Id. at ¶ 5.66.) Once an Uber driver receives a ride request, the driver can accept the request and provide the customer with a ride. (Id. at ¶¶ 5.2-5.3.) The rider is able to enter the intended destination into the Uber App prior to entering the vehicle. (Id. at ¶ 5.3.) At the completion of each ride, the fare is automatically charged to the payment method linked to the rider's Uber account. (Id. at ¶ 5.3.) Uber processes the fare and pays the driver a fixed portion of the fare. (Id. at ¶ 5.57.)

         Uber uses a large pool of drivers to provide rides to its customers. (Compl. at ¶ 5.56.) Drivers are required to be over 21 years of age, have a valid United States driver license, have at least one year of driving experience in the United States, and have an eligible four-door vehicle. (Id. at ¶ 5.57.) Individuals seeking to become an Uber driver can apply online through Uber's website. (Id. at ¶ 5.58.) Uber conducts background checks on its potential drivers that relies upon the individuals to submit personal identifiers through an online webpage. (Id. at ¶ 5.107.) Uber provides the potential drivers' information to third party vendors who perform name-based background checks. (Id.)

         In April 2014, Uber created a webpage regarding the safety of riding with Uber. (Compl. at ¶ 5.90.) The webpage contained the phrase “SAFEST RIDES ON THE ROAD.” (Id.) The webpage also stated it was committed to “setting the strictest standards possible” and that every driver is “thoroughly screened through a rigorous process we've developed using industry-leading standards.” (Id. at ¶ 5.92.) Uber also maintained blogs that discussed its background check process and stated that the background checks go back seven years, “the maximum allowable by the Fair Credit Reporting Act.” (Id.) A communication representative from Uber was also quoted in the media stating Uber was confident that “every ride on the Uber platform is safer than a taxi.” (Id. at ¶ 5.93.) Uber also implemented “Safe Rides Fees”[1] that are added to every UberX fare, which Uber represented were to support its efforts to connect riders to the safest rides, including “an industry-leading background check process.” (Id. at ¶ 5.99.)

         In late 2014, several lawsuits were filed against Uber for misleading statements regarding the safety of its services, including its representations about its “industry-leading standards.” (Compl. at ¶ 5.94.) The lawsuits noted that drivers who had passed Uber's screening process and were driving for Uber were found to have felony convictions. (Id. at ¶ 2.4.) The State of Massachusetts also later screened in-state Uber drivers who had passed Uber's screening process and found some of the drivers to have a history of violent crimes. (Id. at ¶ 2.5.)

         Plaintiff Gorne downloaded the Uber App in 2014. (Compl. at ¶ 6.1.) After downloading the Uber App, Plaintiff Gorne received emails from Uber regarding its background checks while he was in California. (Id. at ¶¶ 6.2, 6.4.) In November 2014, Plaintiff Gorne received an email from Uber stating his safety was Uber's “top priority.” (Id. at ¶ 6.2.) Between 2014 and October 2017, Plaintiff Gorne used Uber's services on more than 150 occasions. (Id. at ¶ 6.3.) In using Uber's services, Plaintiff Gorne incurred charges related to Uber's “Safe Rides Fees” while in California and other locations. (Id.)

         On the evening of October 1, 2017, Plaintiff Gorne connected with Uber driver Mr. Soajima for a ride using his Uber App in Seattle, Washington. (Compl. at ¶ 6.6.) The complaint alleges that Mr. Soajima was a convicted felon. (Id. at ¶¶ 6.13-6.16.) After entering Mr. Soajima's vehicle, Plaintiff Gorne and Mr. Soajima had a verbal altercation. (Id. at ¶ 6.7.) As a result, Plaintiff Gorne no longer wanted a ride from Mr. Soajima. (Id.) Plaintiff Gorne exited the vehicle and proceeded to step onto the sidewalk to request a different Uber driver on his phone. (Id. at ¶ 6.8.) Mr. Soajima exited his vehicle, walked across the front of the vehicle, approached Plaintiff Gorne, and stabbed him in the chest. (Id. at ¶ 6.9.)

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Legal Standard for Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for dismissal for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court construes the complaint in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Livid Holdings Ltd. v. Salomon Smith Barney, Inc., 416 F.3d 940, 946 (9th Cir. 2005). The court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Wyler Summit P'ship v. Turner Broad. Sys., Inc., 135 F.3d 658, 661 (9th Cir. 1998). The court, however, is not required “to accept as true allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences.” Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001).

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see also Telesaurus VPC, LLC v. Power, 623 F.3d 998, 1003 (9th Cir. 2010). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677-78. “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'…Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557). Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) may also be based on the lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).

         B. Negligence, Negligent Hiring, Supervision, and Retention Claims

         Plaintiffs seek to hold Uber liable for the negligent hiring, supervision, and retention of Mr. Soajima as a driver. (Compl. at ¶¶ 7.1-7.13.) Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Uber is a common carrier and therefore owed “Plaintiff Gorne and the general public a duty of reasonable care in the hiring, training, and supervision of its drivers and is responsible for the negligent and tortious actions of its drivers.”[2] (Id. at ¶ 7.4.) Although Plaintiffs stipulate that Plaintiff Gorne had alighted from Mr. Soajima's vehicle at the time of the assault, Plaintiffs argue he remained a passenger because he had not reached “secure and maintainable footing” as Mr. Soajima immediately followed him out of the vehicle and assaulted him. (Opp'n at 7-8.)

         Conversely, Uber argues that at the time of the assault, Plaintiff Gorne was no longer a passenger and therefore Uber owed him no duty of care. (Uber Mot. at 8-10.) Uber further asserts that even if Plaintiff Gorne had been a passenger when he briefly entered Mr. Soajima's vehicle, his status as a passenger terminated when exited the vehicle because he was on the public sidewalk and “he no longer wanted to go with Mr. Soajima.” (Reply at 7 (quoting Compl. at ¶ 6.7).) As such, Uber argues that the Court need not reach the issue of whether Uber is a common carrier or whether Mr. Soajima was an employee. (Id. at 10.) ...


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