Court Denies Uber’s Motion To Compel Arbitration

On Thursday, the Northern District of California denied Uber’s motion to compel arbitration in a case alleging the company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) stating that the parties already arbitrated. The fact that the case was administratively closed because of Uber’s previous failure to pay fees, which allowed the plaintiff to file this action, did not persuade the court to compel arbitration.

Lucia Greco, a visually impaired individual who uses a guide dog, sued Uber for violating the ADA and the California Unruh Act. Greco proffered that “Uber drivers repeatedly cancelled rides after learning of Ms. Greco’s guide dog, leaving her stranded, late, and humiliated.” Furthermore, she claimed that “Uber failed to train and supervise its drivers and is liable for the resulting discrimination.” Uber then filed a motion before the court to compel arbitration pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA).

Uber stated that in 2013 when the plaintiff signed up for the app and agreed to its Terms and Conditions, she agreed to the provision within the Terms and Conditions that stated “any dispute, claim or controversy arising out of or relating to this Agreement  … or the use of the Service or Application … will be settled by binding arbitration.” The arbitration would be administered by the American Arbitration Association (AAA). 

In 2016, Uber updated its terms and conditions, the parties “agreed to arbitrate ‘any dispute’ arising from Ms. Greco’s ‘access to or use of the Services’” and the arbitrator would have exclusive authority in resolving disputes. In March, the plaintiff filed an arbitration demand with the AAA with the same allegations as this complaint. Uber was served the demand for arbitration in April. 

However, before service the AAA said Uber did not comply with its policies prior to the arbitaration’s filing and declined to address the claim and others against Uber. Thus, AAA administratively closed the file and stated that “either party may choose to submit its dispute to the appropriate court for resolution.’” Uber learned that it had failed to pay two fees in unrelated matters before the AAA, paid the fees, and was reinstated. 

Uber then requested that the AAA re-open Greco’s arbitration case, but the AAA reiterated that the case was closed and would not reopen, unless the parties agreed to reopen the case, the court directed them, or the claimant refiled. However, Greco declined to refile and instead filed this action in the Northern District of California.

The court noted that Greco argued arbitration, according to the contract, was already completed and found that the parties contracted to resolve their issue pursuant to AAA rules, which included that AAA would decline to arbitrate if the business had not paid the required fees. AAA allows either party to bring the dispute to court once the AAA declines to arbitrate, as is the case here. The court stated that “Uber expressly agreed to be bound by these rules. It cannot now complain of their enforcement.” 

Specifically, the court noted that “it is not Ms. Greco that seeks to escape the agreement, but Uber itself, by asking the Court to overturn the AAA rules and force the case back to arbitration.” As a result, the court refused to do so. The court added that “Uber’s remaining arguments miss the mark.” For example, Uber argued that since the owed fee was for another dispute it did not breach this agreement, but the court stated that this point assumes the contract was invalidated which it was not because the plaintiff arbitrated in accordance with her contract. 

The plaintiff is represented by Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane & Conway. Uber is represented by Littler Mendelson, P.C.