Class Rights of Taxi Drivers in Oakland, California

January 3, 2013

Civil Code §1638 provides that the clear explicit language of a contract governs its interpretation. Pursuant to Civil Code §1639, that the intention of the parties to a written contract must be ascertained from the writing alone.

Oakland City Ordinance 5.64.040(d)(1)) unequivocally states that: “Fleet managers shall provide to drivers receipts for all fees collected from said drivers.”

Oakland Municipal Code 5.64.040(C) states:

Fleet management permittees are required to maintain for a period of not less than one year all records pertaining to the fleet manager’s operation and management, including but not limited to all waybills completed by drivers, all dispatch logs, all vehicle inspection records, driver training records, passenger complaints, citation records, leasing records, and insurance records. Fleet managers shall make available for inspection, Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., all such records. Fleet managers shall take reasonable efforts to ensure the completeness and accuracy of all records. Any records which are determined to be inadequate, inaccurate, or any request which is not complied with may result in the suspension or revocation of the fleet management permit pursuant to Section 5.64.080.

On October 28, 2008, the Oakland Taxicab Ordinance was amended and the following language was inserted:

Passengers shall not be charged a fee for the use of credit cards, nor shall [Option 1] drivers be charged by taxi companies for passengers’ use of credit cards. [Option 2] drivers be charged more than the fee charged by the credit card company for passengers’ use of credit cards. [Option 3] drivers be charged more than five percent for passengers’ use of credit cards.

Oakland Municipal Code 5.64.010(c).

Prior to that date the Oakland Municipal Code did not contain any language permitting credit card processing fees.

The ultimate question the element of predominance presents is whether the issues which may be jointly tried, when compared with those requiring separate adjudication, are so numerous or substantial that the maintenance of a class action would be advantageous to the judicial process and to the litigants. Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (2012) 53 Cal.4th 1004, 1021; Collins v. Rocha (1972) 7 Cal.3rd 232, 238; accord, Sav-On Drug Stores, Inc. v. Superior Court (2004) 34 Cal.4th 319, 326. As a general rule if the defendant’s liability can be determined by facts common to all members of the class, a class will be certified even if the members must individually prove their damages. Brinker, supra, at 1021; Hicks v. Kaufman & Broad Home Corp. (2001) 89 Cal.App.4th 908, 916; accord, Knapp v. AT & T Wireless Services, Inc. (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 932, 941, 124 Cal.Rptr.3d 565. “Predominance is a comparative concept, and “the necessity for class members to individually establish eligibility and damages does not mean individual fact questions predominate.” Bradley v. Networkers International, LLC (2012) 211 Cal.App.4th 1129, quoting Sotelo v. MediaNews Group, Inc. (2012) 207 Cal.App.4th 639, 652.

In determining whether the superior procedure for adjudicating the claims of the drivers—one class action or hundreds of potential individual actions, the Court in Sav-On Drug Stores, Inc. v. Superior Court (2004) 34 Cal.4th 319, 339 n10 stated:

The relevant comparison lies between the costs and benefits of adjudicating plaintiffs’ claims in a class action and the costs and benefits of proceeding by numerous separate actions – not between the complexity of a class suit that must accommodate some individualized inquiries and the absence of any remedial proceeding whatsoever.

The first, and most important benefit of a class action procedure will be that it prevents a “failure of justice in our judicial system.” Linder v. Thrifty Oil Co., (2000) 23 Cal.4th 429, 434-435. Litigation is costly, both in time and money. This enormous cost would essentially force hundreds of Putative Class Members (“PCMs”) to abandon their modest individual claims, because the individual claims are so small that it would be impossible for them to retain counsel… Consequently, class litigation serves the “public interest in the enforcement of legal rights” by ensuring that these claims are adjudicated on the merits rather than abandoned. Id. at 741.

Civil Code §3517 provides that “No one can take advantage of his own wrong.” Thus, an employer cannot be permitted to profit or preclude certification based on their own wrongdoing in failing to provide drivers with receipts for their processing fees, their failure to keep records, or their intentional destruction of relevant evidence through document shredding.

A class action procedure that adjudicates the claims of the PCMs once and for all promises to be a far superior procedure to the alternative, a multiverse of competing and conflicting individual lawsuits. Class treatment would avoid the redundancy and inefficiencies of numerous individual trials.

Under Evidence Code §500, the burden of proof may be shifted to an employer, upon a “policy judgment that there is a substantial probability the defendant has engaged in wrongdoing [including, as here, spoliation of evidence], and the defendant’s wrongdoing makes it practically impossible for the plaintiff to prove the wrongdoing.” Williams v. Russ (2009) 167 Cal.App.4th 1215, 1227; National Council Against Health Fraud, Inc. v. King Bio Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (2003) 107 Cal.App.4th 1336, 1346; Galanek v. Wismar (1999) 68 Cal.App.4th 1417.

Author: Richard Hoyer
Category: Class Actions, Legal Procedure
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