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Doe v. Uber Technologies, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

May 31, 2017

JANE DOE, Plaintiff,
v.
UBER TECHNOLOGIES, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO TRANSFER RE: DKT. NO. 21

          William H. Orrick United States District Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Jane Doe[1] brings this tort suit against defendant Uber Technologies, Inc. (“Uber”) based upon an alleged sexual assault perpetrated against her by an Uber driver in Minnesota in August 2016. Uber moves to transfer venue to the District of Minnesota pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Because the majority of the evidence and key third party witnesses are in Minnesota, and Minnesota's local interest in deciding this controversy is substantially stronger than California's, the case should be tried there. I GRANT Uber's motion.

         BACKGROUND

         Uber is a “transportation network company” incorporated in Delaware and headquartered in San Francisco, California. Complaint (“Compl.”) (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 6. Since its inception in 2010, Uber has grown into a multi-billion dollar enterprise with operations in approximately 555 cities worldwide. Id. ¶¶ 3, 6.

         In 2014, Uber had more than 160, 000 regularly active drivers and the company estimated in October 2016 that it provides transportation services to 40 million active riders monthly. Id. ¶ 10. It provides a downloadable smartphone application (“App”) that connects individuals in need of a ride with drivers who transport passengers in their own personal vehicles. Id. ¶ 11. Individuals use the App to request a ride, and are then paired with an available Uber driver who picks the rider up and drives them to their destination. Id. Customers pay Uber for each ride with a credit card through the App. Id. Uber sets fare prices for rides without driver input, collects the rider's credit card payment, pays the driver a portion of the collected fare, and keeps the remainder. Id. ¶¶ 11, 34.

         To meet rider demand, “Uber solicits and retains tens of thousands of non-professional drivers” to provide transportation services through the App. Id. ¶ 12. It has “minimum requirements” to be a driver, requiring that all drivers be over 21 years old and have a valid U.S. driver's license, an eligible four-door vehicle, and at least one year of experience driving in the U.S. Id. ¶ 29. Prospective Uber drivers apply entirely online by “filling out a few short forms and uploading photos of a driver's license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance.” Id. ¶ 43. Uber does not verify that the information provided by applicants is complete or accurate, or that “the documents submitted are accurate or actually pertain to the applicant.” Id. ¶¶ 43, 50. It generally uses third party vendors to conduct background checks on applicants. Id. ¶ 50. These vendors run the drivers' social security numbers through databases that, according to plaintiff, capture information only dating back seven years and do not capture all arrests or convictions. Id. Drivers hired by Uber then become “available to the public to provide transportation services through [the] App.” Id. ¶ 12.

         Uber markets itself as a better and safer alternative to taxis and advertises its services as the “safest ride on the road” and “a ride you can trust.” Id. ¶¶ 64-65. It emphasizes its “focus on rider safety before during and after every trip, ” and represents to customers that “[e]very ridesharing and livery driver is thoroughly screened through a rigorous process we've developed using industry-leading standards. This includes a three step criminal background screening for the U.S.-with country, federal and multi-state checks that go back as far as the law allows-and ongoing reviews of drivers' motor vehicle records throughout their time on Uber.” Id. ¶¶ 70-71. Its advertisements target the market of intoxicated late night riders, particularly women. Id. ¶ 76. Uber's website and marketing platforms display “numerous pictures of smiling women entering and exiting vehicles, who are meant to appear ‘safe.'” Id. ¶ 79.

         Jane Doe resides in Roseville, Minnesota. She began using Uber in 2013. Id. ¶¶ 83-84. In choosing to use Uber, she relied on Uber's advertisements representing that Uber is “a safe and reliable option for female passengers.” Id. ¶¶ 84-86.

         On August 5, 2016, Doe and her two friends used the Uber App to request a ride to a brewery in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Id. ¶¶ 87, 89. Uber driver Abdel Jaquez picked them up and drove them to the brewery. Id. ¶ 89. At the end of the fourteen-minute ride, Jaquez exchanged phone numbers with the women so they could request an Uber ride to their next destination later that night. Id.

         After eating and drinking at the brewery, Doe and her friends contacted Jaquez to request transport to a second bar in Minneapolis. Id. ¶ 90. Jaquez drove Doe and one friend to the second bar. “It was their understanding that Uber was continuing to charge them for this second ride via the Uber App, ” and that “Jaquez continued to act as an Uber employee, on the clock.” Id. Doe sat in the passenger seat during the ride, and played music on her phone through the vehicle's auxiliary cord. Id. ¶ 91.

         As Doe exited Jaquez's car at the second bar, she realized that she had left her phone in his car, and went back to retrieve it while her friend went ahead into the bar. Id. When Doe returned to Jaquez's car, he attempted to kiss her. She told him that she was not interested. Id. ¶ 92. Jaquez told her to “shut the [profanity] door, ” and accelerated forward while Doe was still partially in the car. Id. Jaquez drove to an isolated stretch of road at the end of the block, where he “climbed on top of [] Doe, forcibly kissing and groping her, ” and “gained access to and assaulted her breasts.” Id. Doe was shocked and terrified, and “kept repeating: ‘Please let me go. I don't want to do this.'” Id. She managed to escape from the car and ran back to the bar where she immediately told her friends that “the Uber driver had attempted to rape her.” Id. ¶ 93. Doe had “visible bite marks to her lip, scratches and bruising to her arm, and a button missing from her shirt.” Id. ¶ 95. She reported the sexual assault to both the police and Uber. Id. ¶ 97. Since the incident, Doe has received treatment from a therapist for “anxiety, depression, feelings of guilt, and suicidal ideation resulting from the sexual assault.” Id. ¶ 96.

         According to Doe, Jaquez “had a record of moving violations” and “a prior criminal record of a sexual crime against another woman.” Id. ¶ 88. Doe alleges that “a detailed fingerprint-based background check of the type conducted regularly within the taxi industry” would have revealed Jaquez's criminal history. Id. At the time she filed her complaint, Jaquez was allegedly still “an authorized Uber driver.” Id. ¶ 97.

         On February 23, 2017, Doe filed this action against Uber.[2] Dkt. No. 1. She asserts seven claims for relief: (1) Negligence (negligent hiring, negligent supervision, and negligent retention); (2) Fraud (intentional misrepresentation, concealment, and false promise); (3) Negligent Misrepresentation; (4) Battery; (5) Assault; (6) False Imprisonment; and (7) Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress. See Compl. ¶¶ 108-156. Doe brings claims four through seven under a theory of respondeat superior. See id. ¶¶ 125-156. Doe seeks non-economic, economic, punitive, and exemplary damages, attorneys' fees and costs, and pre- and post-judgment interest.

         Uber now moves to transfer venue to the District of Minnesota pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Uber Mot. to Transfer (”Mot.”) (Dkt. No. 21-1). It contends that transfer is appropriate because the relevant facts all arose either in Minneapolis-where the alleged assault took place and evidence regarding that assault and any damage to plaintiff is located-or in Chicago, from where Uber runs its Minneapolis operations. Reply (Dkt. No. 30) at 4. Doe opposes transfer. Opposition (“Oppo.”) (Dkt. No. 29).[3]

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “For the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought or to any district or division to which all parties have consented.” 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Section 1404(a) “requires two findings-that the district court is one where the action might have been brought and that the convenience of parties and witnesses in the interest of justice favors transfer.” Hatch v. Reliance Ins. Co., 758 F.2d 409, 414 (9th Cir. 1985) (internal quotation marks omitted). A “district court has discretion to adjudicate motions for transfer according to an individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness.” Jones v. GNC Franchising, Inc., 211 F.3d 495, 498 (9th Cir. 2000) (internal quotations marks and citation omitted).

         Under the convenience inquiry, the “defendant must make a strong showing of inconvenience to warrant upsetting the plaintiff's choice of forum.” Decker Coal Co. v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 805 F.2d 834, 843 (9th Cir. 1986). The defendant must point to, and the court must weigh, “private and public interest factors affecting the convenience of the forum.” Id. Courts in this district generally consider the following eight factors:

(1) the plaintiff's choice of forum; (2) the convenience of the parties; (3) the convenience of the witnesses; (4) ease of access to the evidence; (5) familiarity of each forum with the applicable law; (6) feasibility of consolidation of other claims; (7) any local interest in the controversy; and (8) the relative court congestion and time [to] trial in each forum.

Gerin v. Aegon USA, Inc., No. 06-cv-005407-SBA, 2007 WL 1033472, at *4 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 4, 2007) (citing Jones, 211 F.3d at 498-99); accord Lax v. Toyota Motor Corp., 65 F.Supp.3d 772, 776 (N.D. Cal. 2014); Barnes & Noble, Inc. v. LSI Corp., 823 F.Supp.2d 980, 993 (N.D. Cal. 2011); Vu v. ...


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