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Boston Taxi Owners Ass'n, Inc. v. City of Boston

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

February 5, 2015


For Boston Taxi Owners Association, Inc., Raphael Ophir, Joseph Pierre, Plaintiffs: Jenifer M. Pinkham, LEAD ATTORNEY, Tiffany L. Stichel, Schlossberg, LLC, Braintree, MA.

For City of Boston, William Evans, Boston Police Commissioner, Defendants: John J. Boscia, LEAD ATTORNEY, City Of Boston Law Department, Boston, MA; Peter M. Geraghty, Boston Police Department, Boston, MA.

For Department of Public Utilities, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, William F. Galvin, Massachusetts Secretary of State, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Defendants: Tori T. Kim, LEAD ATTORNEY, Massachusetts Attorney General's Office, Boston, MA; Annapurna Balakrishna, Office of the Attorney General, Government Bureau, Boston, MA.


Nathaniel M. Gorton, United States District Judge.

In this action, the Boston Taxi Owners Association, Inc., along with two individual Boston taxicab license owners, Raphael Ophir and Joseph Pierre, (collectively, " plaintiffs" ), have raised a federal constitutional challenge to recent amendments to regulations relating to the registration of motor vehicles. The suit is brought against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (" DPU" ), the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (" MassDOT" ) and Secretary of State William F. Galvin (collectively, " the state defendants" ), and also against the City of Boston and Boston Police Commissioner William Evans (collectively, " the city defendants" ).

The recent amendments to the subject regulations establish standards for the registration of motor vehicles providing services for so-called Transportation Network Companies (" TNCs" ), such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. See 540 CMR 2.05. Plaintiffs contend that those amendments create an arbitrary, two-tiered system between TNCs and taxicabs that violate plaintiffs' constitutional rights. Moreover, they argue that the continuing failure of the City of Boston to enforce its own local regulations governing the Hackney Carriage industry against TNCs also violates plaintiffs' constitutional rights.

Pending before the Court is plaintiffs' emergency motion for a preliminary injunction (1) to enjoin defendants from enforcing the amendments to 540 CMR 2.05, which became effective on January 16, 2015, and (2) to order the city defendants to enforce certain regulations governing the Hackney Carriage industry against TNCs. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.

I. Background

A. Regulation of the Boston Taxi Industry

The main source of regulation for the City of Boston (" the City" or " Boston" ) taxicab industry is its Police Commissioner (" the Commissioner" ), who is authorized by state statute to regulate the taxi business in Boston. In exercising that authority, the Commissioner requires anyone who drives or is " in charge of" a " hackney carriage" (i.e. taxicab) to possess a license known as a " taxicab medallion." There are currently 1,825 city-issued medallions.

In 2008, the Commissioner issued a comprehensive set of taxicab regulations under Boston Police Department Rule 403 (" Rule 403" ). Rule 403 defines a taxicab as " [a] vehicle used or designed to be used for the conveyance of persons for hire from place to place within the City of Boston." Since its inception, Rule 403 has not been applied to livery vehicles, despite the fact that the broad definition of a taxicab would seem to encompass them.

The rule requires all taxicab operators, inter alia, to possess a medallion, maintain a properly equipped and functioning taxicab, display a hackney carriage license at all times, refrain from cell phone use while operating a taxicab and belong to an approved dispatch service or " radio association." Rule 403 also sets out the approved manner in which a taxicab in the City can engage customers.

Beginning in around 2012, companies such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar began operations in Boston and surrounding communities. The cellular phone app-based, for-hire transportation services have quickly gained in popularity and serve as an alternative to traditional taxicab or livery services. The new companies rely, to varying degrees, on drivers who provide pre-arranged transportation services in their own private vehicles. The City of Boston has yet to issue regulations applicable to such companies, nor does it enforce Rule 403 against them. In October, 2014, however, the City convened a " Taxi Advisory Committee" which is authorized to examine the City's regulatory framework of for-hire transportation services and perhaps to develop new policies to account for these relatively new entrants into the market.

B. State Regulation of Motor Vehicle Registration

Overlaying the specific city regulations for taxicabs, MassDOT has enacted statewide requirements for the registration of all motor vehicles. 540 CMR 2.05. Prior to the recent amendments, 540 CMR 2.05 outlined two ways in which small-scale vehicles (designed to carry 15 or fewer passengers) need be registered in order to carry passengers for hire. The first kind of registration pertained to " taxicabs", defined as

any vehicle which carries passengers for hire, and which is licensed by a municipality pursuant to M.G.L. c. 40, § 22 as a taxicab.

The second kind of registration was for a " livery vehicle", defined as

any limousine or other vehicle which ... carries passengers for hire ... [but] is not required to obtain a taxicab license pursuant to M.G.L. c. 40, § 22.

As of January 16, 2015, MassDOT revised 540 CMR 2.05 to include a third alternative for the registration of small-scale vehicles used to carry passengers for hired transportation. Under this third option, private passenger vehicles can be registered and used as " personal transportation network vehicles" on behalf of Transportation Network Companies, or TNCs. TNCs are defined as

entit[ies] operating in Massachusetts that, for consideration, will arrange for a passenger to be transported by a driver between points chosen by the passenger.

The amended regulations also restrict the way in which drivers using their own private vehicles on behalf of a TNC can solicit customers. Specifically, the TNC must have pre-arranged for the driver to provide transportation services and the driver is not permitted to solicit or accept an on-demand ride, otherwise known as a " street hail" or " hail pick-up." Thus, the amended regulations broadly define TNCs and permit TNC drivers to use their own private vehicles so long as they register the vehicle as a " personal transportation network vehicle" and provide transportation services only to passengers that the TNC pre-arranged. Accordingly, the new regulations provide some restrictions on the way in which companies such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar operate within the Commonwealth.

The amendments to 540 CMR 2.05 also (1) require TNCs to obtain a certificate from the DPU in order to do business in Massachusetts, (2) require TNCs and their drivers to carry appropriate liability insurance, (3) require TNCs to perform background checks on their drivers and (4) set standards for TNC drivers.

The new state regulations do not address whether TNC drivers must obtain taxi medallions which is a ...

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