A federal judge has been asked to grant final approval to a $20 million deal to settle a class action lawsuit brought by a group of people who claimed Uber sent them multiple unwanted text messages.
In a motion filed Jan. 12 in Chicago, a group of plaintiffs who said Uber Technologies, Inc., had a faulty enrollment process that led to erroneous, unwanted text messages asked U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin to approve their settlement.
Under the terms of the deal, the firms representing the customers — McGuire Law P.C., of Chicago, and Tycko & Zavareei LLP, of Washington, D.C. — would get $6.35 million for their work, about 31 percent of the total fund. . The $6.35 million for attorney fees includes 36 percent of the settlement fund’s first $10 million, and slightly less than 31 percent of the $9 million remaining after paying administrative expenses and $10,000 incentive awards to each of the six named plaintiffs, identified as Maria Vergara, Sandeep Pal, Jennifer Reilly, Justin Bartolet, James Lathrop and Jonathan Grindell.
Lawyers would get an additional $205,732 in litigation expenses.
A memorandum filed by the plaintiffs’ attorneys in support of final approval of the settlement said 103,485 people who could be members of the settlement class had filed claims seeking to participate, while only 49 people had opted out.
Vergara, of Illinois, filed her original complaint Aug. 7, 2015, saying Uber violated the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act by sending text messages to people who did not sign up for Uber accounts. She alleged the company did so because it prioritized a larger number of enrolled phone numbers over accurately confirming the information of people who actually wanted to receive the messages. She said she sometimes got up to six messages on the same day, each giving a different four-digit number to verify an Uber passenger account for which she never enrolled.
Grindell and Lathrop filed their complaint in federal court in California and were joined a few weeks later by Pal, Reilly and Bartolet. Their complaint alleged receipt of unwanted text messages regarding becoming an Uber driver.
The settlement agreement is the result of mediation on May 23, 2017, in California overseen by retired federal judge Layn R. Phillips. The settlement would include three classes of people who received unauthorized messages: Anyone who got a text in connection with Uber’s refer-a-friend program; anyone who began, but did not complete, the driver application process; and anyone who got messages despite never giving their information to Uber. If all the submitted claims are approved, each class member would get $103, according to the memorandum.
According to the motion for settlement approval, “Uber has already carried out changes designed to more faithfully honor text message recipients’ opt-out requests” as a result of the lawsuits. Uber also said it will take steps to reduce or eliminate errant texts for at least two years after the settlement takes effect, such as by discontinuing the refer-a-friend program and maintaining a “robust opt-out protocol.”
In arguing in support of the settlement, the plaintiffs’ attorneys noted Uber’s position was strong, in part because it said the refer-a-friend messages were the product of human intervention, and not an automated dialer, and therefore did not violate the TCPA.
Likewise, messages sent to prospective drivers might have been deemed legal because they did not constitute telemarketing. The messages such as those that went to Vergara could have been deemed acceptable as “misdirected” or “wrong number” messages, plaintiffs noted.
The plaintiffs also said the only remaining objector to their settlement, identified as Kerry Ann Sweeney, “is a professional objector whose objection is factually and legally baseless,” and argued her opposition should not be used to hold up the deal.
Uber is represented in the action by attorneys with the firms of Morrison & Foerster LLP, of New York, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, of San Francisco; and Ellis Legal P.C., of Chicago.