Uber Can Immediately Appeal Ruling That Cleared Passenger Sexual Assault Lawsuits in MDL

Although judge certified an interlocutory appeal about whether passengers can participate in an MDL, the court rejected a request to stay of all pretrial proceedings in the Uber sexual assault lawsuits.

The U.S. District Judge presiding over all Uber passenger sexual assault lawsuits is allowing the rideshare service to pursue an immediate appeal of a recent ruling, which rejected the companies claim that consolidating the litigation as part of a federal MDL violated the “terms of service” that riders entered into. However, the pretrial proceedings in the cases will not be stayed while that appeal is pursued.

Uber currently faces more than 250 lawsuits brought by former passengers who indicate they were sexually assaulted, attacked or even raped by drivers, each raising similar allegations that the rideshare company failed to take appropriate safety precautions that could have prevented sexual predators from working as drivers and targeting passengers on a regular basis.

Although Uber announced “Safe Ride Fees” in 2014, plaintiffs maintain that this has only led to cursory background checks on drivers, and that the rideshare company prioritized profits and growth over creating a safer environment for passengers, failing to take reasonable steps like adding surveillance cameras to vehicles, or giving drivers proper training on issues of sexual assault and harassment.

Since there were a growing number of similar complaints being filed in various different federal courts, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation established an Uber sexual assault lawsuit MDL in October 2023, centralizing the litigation before U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer in the Northern District of California, for coordinated discovery and a series of early “bellwether” trials to gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that amy be repeated throughout the claims.

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Uber has aggressively opposed the consolidation, attempting to argue before both the U.S. JPML and Judge Breyer that plaintiffs forfeited their right to participate in centralized MDL proceedings when they agreed to the rideshare app’s terms of service. Therefore, company called for the Court to dismiss the cases or transfer them back to U.S. District Court where they were originally filed due to the “Non-Consolidation Clause.”

In May, Judge Breyer rejected the company’s motion, allowing the Uber sexual lawsuits to move forward the MDL, after determining that enforcement of that clause would interfere with the Court’s ability to legally do its job.

“The judiciary’s case management powers…ultimately serve not only the parties’ interests, but the public interest in the efficient and effective use of judicial resources,” Judge Breyer wrote. “In this respect, the Non-Consolidation Clause substantially interferes with the public interests that Congress sought to advance – and the means by which it sought to advance them – when it enacted the MDL statute. So the clause is unenforceable.”

Earlier this month, Uber filed a motion to certify an interlocutory appeal (PDF) of the terms of service ruling, asking for permission to immediately challenge the decision before any final judgment is reached in the cases. However, the company also asked Judge Breyer to stay all further proceedings in the Uber passenger assault lawsuits until a decision was reached on the appeal.

In a brief in opposition (PDF) filed on June 21, plaintiffs objected to both the appeal and any stay of the MDL, which would cause further delays in resolving the litigation.

“Whether Uber can, by operation of contract, dissolve this MDL in whole or in part is an important issue, one to which the Court gave close attention,” the plaintiffs wrote. “The effect of Uber’s Non-Consolidation Clause is, indeed, already before the Ninth Circuit, as part of Uber’s fully-briefed mandamus petition.”

The plaintiffs argue that neither an immediate appeal or a stay would “materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation”, meaning that even if Uber’s appeal was granted, the litigation would continue on, just not as an MDL. Instead, the cases would be remanded back to the districts where they were first filed as individual claims.

Judge Breyer agreed, issuing a court order (PDF) this week that grants Uber the right to pursue an interlocutory appeal to resolve the question quickly. But the request to stay the MDL proceedings while the appeals process moves forward was rejected.

“That is a question of law, and it is a ‘controlling’ question,” Judge Breyer wrote. “It could materially affect the outcome of this litigation because it could dictate whether many plaintiffs’ claims are adjudicated in this MDL or whether they are adjudicated elsewhere.”

However, Judge Breyer indicated that pausing the MDL pretrial proceedings was unwarranted. Therefore, the Court will move forward the discovery process and preparing claims for eventual trials.

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