Uber has proved itself a magnet for lawsuits. Now the company known for blowing off regulations brought a federal lawsuit Friday against a regulator--the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission in St. Louis. The company also launched in the area Friday without approval from the MTC, a regional board that oversees taxi regulations in the St. Louis metropolitan area.
This is the first time the company has filed a lawsuit against a U.S. regulator for anti-competitive conduct, according to Uber. The lawsuit follows a year of back and forth with the MTC, which has demanded Uber fingerprint drivers as part of the background check process.Uber has argued that its background checks are sufficient. The commission has said fingerprinting is a requirement by state statute.
Commission attorney Neil Bruntrager told the Los Angeles Times Friday that MTC has acted within the law.
"All we've done with fingerprinting is absolutely within our jurisdiction," he said.
Plaintiffs in the case include “rider plaintiffs” Marsha Robyn Wallen and Patrick Andert, and “driver plaintiffs” Patrick Fox and Kneeshe Parkinson, who drive for Uber USA and Uber subsidiary Rasier LLC, respectively.
Robyn Wallen came to the attention of Uber through a complaint she made on social media, according to the company. Information on how the company connected with the other individual plaintiffs was not immediately available.
The antitrust lawsuit, as the Los Angeles Times notes, calls the MTC a “cartel” and seeks a restraining order that would allow Uber to operate for two weeks without the commission intervening.
“The facts presented by this lawsuit are unique; it is no accident that St. Louis is the largest metropolitan area left in the United States in which uberX is unavailable. The reason for that is because the MTC, by law, is controlled by the traditional taxicab industry; it is the proverbial fox guarding the henhouse,” states the lawsuit.
“The MTC’s market-participant makeup provides strong financial incentives for MTC members to use their authority to prevent competition in St. Louis from potential new products and services such as those provided through uberX.”
The company reported Friday that 58,000 riders have downloaded the app in St. Louis and 1,900 drivers in the area had been approved.
The debate over ride-hailing in St. Louis has drawn members of the city's tech startup community into the brawl. Square cofounder Jim McKelvey, a St. Louis resident, has compared the city's lack of ridesharing services to a hotel without WiFi.