Uber Freight loses its claim for Immunity

On Behalf of | Jun 12, 2024 | Firm News

Uber Freight attempted to skirt its duties to the Postons by filing a motion to be dismissed from the lawsuit. It premised its motion on two arguments, both of which fell under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which states that defendants can be dismissed from lawsuits if the plaintiffs fail “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” In other words, Uber Freight argued that Almo (which filed a third-party complaint against Uber) had not set forth a valid claim against the company.

Uber first argued in its motion that Almo had not alleged enough facts to sustain a valid legal claim. Uber stated that:

Almo has attempted to state a negligence cause of action against Uber Freight based purely on the fact that Uber Freight acted as freight broker in the transaction paired with a presumption—without factual allegations in support—that Uber Freight breached duties to oversee Velox’s operations. Simply put, the facts alleged do not state a claim against Uber Freight, and the negligence claim is subject to dismissal.

However, Judge Molloy quickly dispensed with Uber’s argument and ruled that:

Due to the presence of the contract between Uber and Velox, the Court could infer that Uber has, or should have had, hiring practices to ensure that any federal or state regulations relative to the industry are followed.

This meant that the “claims that Uber did not verify the qualifications or hiring practices of Velox [were] plausible.”

Uber based their second argument on the idea that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (“the Act”) preempted any claims against the company. But Judge Molloy ruled that binding precedent in the Ninth Circuit did not provide Uber with preemption protection (pursuant to Miller v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc.). Judge Molloy wrote in his order that:

…Uber seeks to escape Montana’s regulatory authority. Uber argues that any claim related to a broker’s services is expressly preempted under the Act because subsection (c)(1) is unambiguous: state law relating to the services of a broker are preempted. Following Uber’s argument, the Act would preempt any state tort claim against not only the broker, but also the motor carrier and any entity providing services related to the transportation of property as defined by the Act. Thus, if Uber’s argument is accepted, any citizen of Montana would be left without civil recourse in the event of a traffic collision with any interstate motor carrier, which was not the intent of Congress. See Miller, 976 F.3d at 1020.

Furthermore, Uber relies upon irrelevant case law. Uber cites other circuit decisions regarding application of the safety exception in the Act to common law tort claims, but since there is clear direction from the Ninth Circuit any conflicting circuit decisions are irrelevant. Given the Ninth Circuit’s clear treatment of the safety exception to the Act and evidence of Congress’s intent, Almo’s negligence claims are not preempted by the Act because they involve general safety regulations that directly fall under state safety regulatory authority.

In layman’s terms, Judge Molloy ruled that Uber had legal duties to Mr. Poston and every other Montana motorist.

Ultimately, the parties confidentially settled all claims at a settlement conference with Federal Magistrate Judge Kathleen DeSoto in Missoula, Montana.