Uber collective-bargaining lawsuit inches forward

Since the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a split-decision last fall, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s legal challenge to Seattle’s ordinance granting collective-bargaining rights to Uber and Lyft drivers has been back in the hands of the district court. But it’s proceeding in starts and stops, with the occasional flurry of motions and other legal filings. Today a joint status report filed by the parties extends that pattern.

In December, the parties agreed to pause the schedule for filing briefings while the City Council deliberated on a modification to the collective-bargaining ordinance. That ordinance was passed by the Council last week, stripping out references to compensation in an attempt to avoid running afoul of the Sherman Antitrust Act. With that done, the parties have proposed a new case schedule.


You may recall the City of Seattle argued that it has “state-action immunity” from the Sherman Antitrust Act; the 9th Circuit disagreed, and sent the case back to the district court for a trial on whether the ordinance actually violates the Sherman Act. The plaintiffs intend to file a new motion for summary judgment; the status report doesn’t let on as to what their argument will be, but they have suggested in the past that they believe the Sherman Act still applies — even with the compensation issues stripped out — and the ordinance is thus illegal.

The city, in response, has signaled that it plans to file a “Rule 56(d)” motion. Motions for summary judgment may only be granted by the court if there are no relevant facts still to be discovered or in dispute (and thus no trial required to establish the facts), so the judge may simply rule on the application of the law to those facts. But Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (the rulebook for how cases proceed in federal court) rule 56(d)  is a means for the city to say “not all of the facts are available; we still need to do discovery so it’s premature to grant summary judgment.” If Judge Lasnik agrees, then he may delay consideration of the motion for summary judgment until after discovery is complete, and set a deadline for discovery to be completed. Or he may reject the motion for summary judgment and just schedule discovery and a trial. But the Chamber of Commerce will first get to argue against the city’s Rule 56(d) motion… so yeah, we’re pretty much in dueling legal-brief hell. And once the Rule 56(d) motion is taken care of, there will probably be more dueling legal briefs on the motion for summary judgment — more hell.

From today’s joint status report, here’s the new schedule.

This looks like it will take all winter and spring — and longer if the judge allows time for discovery. Get comfy, we’re going to be here a while.

And in case you had forgotten, the original Uber/Lyft driver collective-bargaining ordinance was passed by the Council in December 2015. Three years of legal proceedings, with no end in sight.