Doe v. Uber Technologies, Inc., 20-cv-8446 (LJL)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
Writing for the CourtLEWIS J. LIMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
PartiesJANE DOE, Plaintiff, v. UBER TECHNOLOGIES, INC., Defendant.
Docket Number20-cv-8446 (LJL)
Decision Date28 July 2021

JANE DOE, Plaintiff,
v.

UBER TECHNOLOGIES, INC., Defendant.

No. 20-cv-8446 (LJL)

United States District Court, S.D. New York

July 28, 2021


OPINION AND ORDER

LEWIS J. LIMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Defendant Uber Technologies, Inc. (“Uber”) moves, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), to dismiss the complaint. For the following reasons, the motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part without prejudice.

BACKGROUND

The Court assumes the truth of the well-pleaded allegations of the Complaint and the documents incorporated therein for purposes of the motion to dismiss.

A. Uber's Business

Defendant Uber connects riders with drivers it hires nationwide, including in New York, through a downloadable smartphone application. Dkt. No. 1-1 (“Complaint” or “Compl.”) ¶¶ 1, 10. First launched in San Francisco in 2010, Uber is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in San Francisco. Id. ¶¶ 8, 10. It also has a New York office. Id.

Uber controls all aspects of the drivers' monetary relationship with the customer, including setting the fares that drivers charge to riders and collecting and limiting the drivers' contact with a customer outside of the app. Id. ¶ 11. Its primary source of revenue is a significant percentage of charges to passengers for rides taken. Its business model requires a large pool of drivers in order to provide rides to consumers quickly and efficiently. To do so, Uber must solicit and retain thousands of drivers. Id. ¶ 12.

The Complaint alleges that the application process to become an Uber driver is simple, fast, and designed to facilitate the hiring of as many drivers as possible while incurring minimal associated costs. Id. ¶ 13. The Complaint does not describe the application process, but alleges that Uber provides minimal background checks and no oversight or monitoring of its drivers. Id. ¶ 15.

B. Uber's Advertising

Uber has advertised its service as providing the “safest rides on the road.” Id. ¶ 16. It has often depicted female passengers smiling in ads (with and without such language) as they enter and exit vehicles. Id. Uber's website also makes claims about the safety of its services:

Whenever you are around the world, Uber is committed to connecting you to the safest ride on the road. That means setting the strictest safety standards possible, and then working hard to improve them every day. The specifics vary depending on what local governments allow, but within each city we operate, we aim to go above and beyond local requirements to ensure your comfort and security-what we are doing in the U.S. is an example of our standards around the world
From the moment you request a ride to the moment you arrive the Uber experience has been designed from the ground up with your safety in mind
Making cities better is at the heart of everything we do It's much more than improving the way people get around. It's celebrating what makes those cities special, caring about the people who make them great, and being responsible citizens. That's why we work hard to keep our streets safe for everyone, whether they're on foot, on a bike, or in another car.

Id. ¶ 18.

Uber has also marketed itself as a safe alternative to drinking and driving. It partnered with Mothers Against Drunk Driving in a “designated rider” campaign that urged consumers to take an Uber to avoid driving under the influence. Id. ¶ 17. In 2015, Uber set up a pop-up kiosk in Toronto, Canada to offer free rides to individuals who blew into breathalyzers. Id.

Altogether, the Complaint alleges that Uber targets solo women travelers with false statements regarding the safety of its services while also disclaiming any responsibility for ensuring such safety. Id. ¶ 26.

C. Sexual Assault Claims at Uber

The Complaint alleges that by 2012, Uber was aware that its drivers were sexually assaulting female customers. Id. ¶ 20. Since 2012, the Complaint further alleges, Uber has been aware of ongoing sexual assaults via customer complaints and law enforcement investigations.

Up until May 2018, Uber imposed a requirement that customers agree to mandatory arbitration for individual claims of sexual assault and harassment, thereby keeping many of these early incidents shrouded in secrecy. Id. ¶ 21. Uber also forced survivors of sexual assault to sign nondisclosure agreements to prohibit them from talking about their experiences. In addition, the Complaint alleges, Uber generally withheld data about sexual assault incidents connected to Uber rides. Id.

In December 2019, Uber reported nearly 6, 000 reports of sexual assaults during its rides in the United States in 2017 and 2018. Id. ¶ 22. About 92% of the victims were riders, and 89% of the victims were “women or female-identifying individuals.” Id. The most frequent reports were of unwanted touching of body parts, e.g., the mouth, breast, and buttocks. Id. ¶ 23. Uber received 1, 400 such reports in 2017 and 1, 560 such reports in 2018. Id.

The Complaint alleges that despite these ongoing reports of sexual assaults, Uber has done little, if anything, to minimize the risk of these incidents. For example, it does not require in-vehicle video, and it does not monitor when drivers stop or deviate from their assigned routes. Id. ¶ 25. It also does not evaluate or monitor when drivers are intoxicated or under the influence of other drugs, and it does not monitor if a driver stops for alcoholic drinks or illicit substances and thereafter turns the app back on and continues driving. Id. ¶ 24. Until recently, and at no point prior to the assault at the center of this action, Uber did not provide customers with a phone contact option. Id. ¶ 25. Similarly, only as of September 2020 did Uber begin offering “a bare minimum of educational videos” to its drivers. Id.

D. The Alleged Assault

On June 7, 2018, Plaintiff Jane Doe ordered an Uber to take her from the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, New York to her home in Rye Brook, New York. Id. ¶¶ 28-29. She ordered the Uber at 1:20 a.m. after meeting her friends to celebrate a birthday at various bars and restaurants. Id. ¶¶ 27-28. Plaintiff has Uber VIP status, which Uber markets as an upgraded experience with more experienced drivers; Plaintiff ordered her ride using the VIP option. Id. ¶ 29. Shortly after requesting the ride, Plaintiff received confirmation from the app that her driver, Iqbal Hussain (“Hussain”), was on his way to pick her up in a Toyota Camry. Id. ¶ 30. When Hussain arrived, Plaintiff confirmed he was the correct driver and entered in the backseat of the vehicle. Google Maps estimated that the ride would be 40 to 45 minutes. Id. ¶ 31. Given the lateness of the hour, Plaintiff nodded off in the car. Id.

Plaintiff was awakened by a touch on her vagina. Id ¶ 32. Hussain had stopped the car and was next to her in the backseat with his hand up her skirt. Plaintiff began to punch Hussain, who attempted to restrain her right wrist and twisted Plaintiff's arm in the process. Plaintiff yelled at him to stop. Hussain eventually relented, exited the vehicle, and re-entered the front driver's seat. Id. ¶ 33. He continued the ride to Plaintiff's residence and dropped her off at 2:35 a.m., one hour and fifteen minutes after Plaintiff had left Manhattan and more than 30 minutes later than her estimated time on Google Maps. Id. ¶ 34.

Upon arriving at home, Plaintiff told her husband what had happened. Id. The following morning, Plaintiff awoke to debilitating pain in her right arm and observed bruising and scratches around her right wrist. Id. ¶ 35. She called one of her friends and recounted what happened to her. Id. ¶ 36. At the advice of her friend, Plaintiff called the police to report the incident. The Port Chester, Rye Brook Emergency Medical Services were dispatched to Plaintiff's address at 10:00 a.m. that day. Id. ¶ 37. Plaintiff complained of a possibly dislocated right shoulder, and she was transported by ambulance to Westchester Medical Center in a robe because of the pain caused in trying to get dressed. Id. ¶ 38. At the hospital, she recounted the prior night's assault.

The hospital diagnosed Plaintiff with a strain and provided her with a sling and instructions to follow up with her primary care physician. Id. ¶ 39. An MRI performed a few days later showed that Plaintiff's right shoulder was fractured. Plaintiff also began treatment with a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), anxiety, and a major depressive disorder as a result of the assault. Id. ¶ 40. She was prescribed a variety of medications to stabilize her through her PTSD. Plaintiff continues to suffer from these conditions.

Plaintiff reports that she no longer feels safe in the company of others, which has affected her job and has forced her to step back from some of her work duties for fear that she will be required to take a car home to Rye Brook from Manhattan. Id. ¶ 41. She has also had to engage several psychiatric and physical health professionals, which has resulted in missing “countless” days of work. Id. She has endured steroid shots, has engaged in intense physical therapy, and continues to suffer pain in her arm. When Plaintiff became pregnant in September of 2018, she experienced complications that caused her to be in and out of the hospital for extended periods of time; she alleges that the physical, emotional, and psychological trauma of the event of June 7, 2018 contributed in large part to her complications.

E. The Present Action

Plaintiff filed a civil action against Uber in state court on October 9, 2020. She brought three causes of action against Uber for negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and deceptive trade practices under New York General Business Law Act § 349.

Plaintiff alleges that despite Uber's promise of safety and her reliance...

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