Arbitration rejected in antitrust suit against Uber

In Meyer v. Kalanick and Uber, the named plaintiff, Spencer Meyer, alleges that Travis Kalanick orchestrated an antitrust conspiracy arising from the algorithm that co-defendant Uber uses to set Uber ride prices. The plaintiffs sued in federal court in New York. Uber and Kalanick moved to compel arbitration saying Mr. Meyer agreed to arbitrate when he signed up for Uber on his smart phone. In a July 29, 2016 opinion, district judge Jed Rakoff rejected the motion. The beginning of Judge Rakoff's opinion provides a nice overview:

Since the late eighteenth century, the Constitution of the United States and the constitutions or laws of the several states have guaranteed U.S. citizens the right to a jury trial. This most precious and fundamental right can be waived only if the waiver is knowing and voluntary, with the courts "indulg[ing] every reasonable presumption against waiver." Aetna Ins. Co. v. Kennedy to Use of Bogash, 301 U.S. 389 , 393 (1937); Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. v. Allegheny Energy, Inc., 500 F.3d 171 , 188 (2d Cir. 2007). But in the world of the Internet, ordinary consumers are deemed to have regularly waived this right, and, indeed, to have given up their access to the courts altogether, because they supposedly agreed to lengthy "terms and conditions" that they had no realistic power to negotiate or contest and often were not even aware of.

This legal fiction is sometimes justified, at least where mandatory arbitration is concerned, by reference to the "liberal federal policy favoring arbitration,"AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333 , 339 (2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). Application of this policy to the Internet is said to inhere in the Federal Arbitration Act, as if the Congress that enacted that Act in 1925 remotely contemplated the vicissitudes of the World Wide Web. Nevertheless, in this brave new world, consumers are routinely forced to waive their constitutional right to a jury and their very access to courts, and to submit instead to arbitration, on the theory that they have voluntarily agreed to do so in response to endless, turgid, often impenetrable sets of terms and conditions, to which, by pressing a button, they have indicated their agreement.

But what about situations where the consumer is not even asked to affirmatively indicate her consent? What about situations in which the consumer, by the mere act of accessing a service, is allegedly consenting to an entire lengthy set of terms and conditions? And what about the situation where the only indication to the consumer that she is so consenting appears in print so small that an ordinary consumer, if she could read it at all, would hardly notice it? Writing for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in 2002, then-Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor presciently held that "[r]easonably conspicuous notice of the existence of contract terms and unambiguous manifestation of assent to those terms by consumers are essential if electronic bargaining is to have integrity and credibility." Specht v. Netscape Communications Corp., 306 F.3d 17 , 35 (2002). Applying these principles to the matter at hand, the Court finds that the plaintiff here never agreed to waive his right to a jury trial or to submit to mandatory arbitration.

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