Court of Common Pleas says UberX operates unlawfully in Philadelphia

A Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas judge sided with the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) last week and against UberX, finding that the controversial ride-hailing app falls under the PPA’s regulatory authority.

Last summer, ten UberX drivers appealed PPA decisions that fined them for operating unlicensed “call and demand” taxi services in Philadelphia. The Common Pleas court hears administrative appeals like these, but Judge Linda Carpenter turned a deaf ear to the drivers’ complaints. One lawyer, David Temple of the Gallagher Law Group P.C., represented each of the ten separate appellants, all of whom were caught in PPA enforcement stings against UberX. Temple made identical arguments in each: The drivers were working for a “Transportation Network Company” (TNC), which the Pennsylvania Utility Commission has allowed to operate legally throughout most of the state since last January, and not a taxi or limo, which are regulated by the PPA in Philadelphia. If the drivers were working for a TNC, then the PPA wouldn’t have the authority to fine them and impound their cars.

Judge Carpenter rejected that argument every time, and provided a footnote explaining her decision, an unnecessary and unusual step for routine affirmations of administrative action. Carpenter noted that the PPA can regulate taxis, which are defined, in part, “by the fact that passengers normally hire the vehicle and its driver either by telephone call or by hail, or both.”

“‘Apps’ on Smartphones used to call a ride for hire are within the definition of a ‘telephone call’ and a ‘hail’ and thus such vehicle is subject to the regulations of PPA, as dictated by our legislature,” wrote Carpenter.

An Uber spokesperson says the company disagrees with the ruling and will appeal it to the Commonwealth Court, despite the fact that, at least technically, its the individual drivers who had their appeals denied. UberX will continue to operate, as no injunction against them has been awarded, yet.*

However, Carpenter’s ruling will likely help the PPA in a separate legal matter against UberX: a lawsuit filed by its Taxi and Limousine Division to bar UberX from operating in Philadelphia. The lawsuit also seeks damages totaling $1,000 per day since UberX began operations in Philadelphia, which is the statutory maximum penalty the PPA could seek, according to PPA General Counsel Dennis Weldon. To date, that fine would total around $876,000.**

That lawsuit, filed before the PPA’s administrative law judges back in August, is ongoing. Weldon said he expects the Carpenter rulings to bind the administrative judges to find in the PPA’s favor, and that he hopes they will be persuasive during any appeals.

*UPDATE: This sentence has been updated to clarify that the orders were against the individual drivers, not UberX, and that no injunction has been issued to date.

**CORRECTION: This sentence mistakenly listed the current fine sought by the PPA as $480,000. It currently stands closer to $876,000 and will increase $1,000 per day, the statutory limit

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