United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
LOKESHWARAN NARAYANASAMY; SAVITRY KRISHNAMURTHY, Individually and as Parent, Natural Guardian, and Next Best Friend of SMITA LOKESHWARAN, Plaintiffs,
CLAUDETTE ISSA; BALISE T, LLC; RASIER, LLC; UBER TECHNOLOGIES, INC.; JOHN DOE; and JANE DOE, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. MCCONNELL, JR., CHIEF JUDGE.
a ride from T.F. Green Airport to his hotel, Mr. Lokeshwaran
Narayanasamy used the Uber Application on his cell phone to
summon a driver. Defendant Claudette Issa, a registered Uber
driver, responded and picked him up. During the trip, Ms.
Issa's car collided with a vehicle owned by Balise T, LLC
("Balise") abandoned by the roadside after breaking
down. Both Mr. Narayanasamy and Ms. Issa suffered injuries.
Narayanasamy's filed an eight-count complaint against Ms.
Issa; Balise; Rasier, LLC and Uber Technologies, Inc.
(collectively "Uber"); John Doe; and Jane Doe. ECF
No. 1. Claiming Ms. Issa was negligent, Mr. Narayanasamy,
along with his wife Savitry Krishnamurthy and their minor
child (collectively "the Narayanasamy's"),
seeks compensation from Uber under a theory of respondeat
superior. They also sued Balise for negligence. Ms. Issa has
brought crossclaims for personal injury and indemnification
against Balise, John Doe, and Jane Doe. ECF No. 22. Balise
filed crossclaims against Ms. Issa and Uber for contribution
and indemnification, alleging negligence, negligent hiring,
training, and supervision. ECF No. 14. Uber brought
crossclaims against Defendants Balise, John Doe, and Jane
Doe. ECF Nos. 17, 19.
moves for summary judgment,  claiming that Ms. Issa is not an
agent, servant, or employee of Uber as a matter of law, and
thus it cannot be held liable under any respondeat superior
theory. ECF No. 68. Balise and the Narayanasamy's oppose
the motion, arguing that summary judgment is inappropriate
because enough questions of fact exist. ECF No. 71, 79. Uber
filed a reply. ECF No. 81.
making a summary judgment determination, the Court should
review the entire record and consider the facts and
inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party. Continental Cas. Co. v. Canadian Univ. Ins.
Co., 924 F.2d 370, 373 (1st Cir. 1991). Summary judgment
is warranted when "the pleadings [and discovery],
together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no
genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving
party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A genuine dispute of material fact is an
issue that "may reasonably be resolved in favor of
either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986).
question here is whether Ms. Issa is an Uber employee
rendering Uber liable for the injuries resulting from the car
accident. In its motion, Uber argues that it cannot be held
liable as a matter of law for Ms. Issa's negligence
because she is an independent contractor not an Uber
employee. Mr. Narayanasamy counters that the Court should
look into the reality of the relationship between Ms. Issa
and Uber- one that he believes bears many hallmarks of an
employer-employee relationship- and should deny summary
judgment because there is a dispute over that relationship.
parties do not appear to dispute, however, that whether a
relationship between parties constitutes an employer-employee
relationship is a mixed question of fact and law and
"depends in each case upon its particular facts taken as
a whole." DiOrio v. R L. Platter, Inc., 211
A.2d 642, 644 (R.I. 1965). There can be no fixed rule in these
cases because '"no single phase of the evidence is
determinative.'" Id. (quoting Sormanti
v. Marsor Jewelry Co., 118 A.2d 339, 340 (R.I. 1955)).
Therefore, a person's status in the work world-whether an
employee or an independent contractor-should be decided by a
jury when enough facts could support either finding.
courts have held that the mixed fact-law question of whether
Uber drivers are Uber employees belongs to the jury. Judge
Edward M. Chen of the Northern District of California denied
Uber's summary judgment motion, finding based on the
facts in the case and reflecting on the United States Supreme
Court's recent decision in Hana Financial, Inc. v.
Hana Bank, __ U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 907, 190 L.Ed.2d 800
(2015), that a jury should decide whether Uber drivers were
considered employees or independent contractors.
O'Connor v. Uber Tech., Inc., 82 F.Supp.3d 1133
(N.D. Cal. 2015); See Hana Fin., 135 S.Ct. at 912
(unless the facts are so clear that only one inference may be
drawn, mixed questions of law and fact are for the jury).
court; recognized that a '"jury's constitutional
responsibility is not merely to determine the facts, but to
apply the law to those facts and draw the ultimate
conclusion.'" O'Connor, 82 F, Supp. 3d
at 1147 (quoting United States v. Gaudin, 515 U.S.
506, 512 (1995)). It observed that
juries answer often-dispositive factual questions or make
dispositive applications of legal standards to facts. The
fact that another jury, hearing the same case, might reach a
different conclusion may make the system
'unpredictable,' but it has never stopped us from
employing juries in these analogous contexts."
O'Connor, 82 F.Supp.3d at 1148 (quoting Hana
Fin., 135 S.Ct. at 912) ("juries should typically decide
mixed questions of law and fact . . . [and] a hiree's
status as either an employee or independent contractor should
typically be determined by a jury, and not the judge.").
Resolving this dispute will turn on the facts determined by
the jury and the jury's application of the facts to the
law as given to it by the Court. To the extent there is a
concern that a jury "may improperly apply the relevant
legal standard, the solution is to craft careful jury
instructions that make that standard clear."
Id. at 1148 (quoting Hana Fin., 135 S.Ct. at 912).
At the motion for summary judgment stage, the Court's
only determination is whether Balise and the
Narayanasamy's have set forth enough evidence that if
believed, a jury could determine that the driver, Ms. Issa
was an employee of Uber.
the Court looks at how state law views the parameters of the
employer-employee relationship to see if more than one
inference could be drawn such that the question should go to
the jury. Under Rhode Island law, the test to determine
whether a person is an employee or an independent contractor
is '"based on the employer's right or power to
exercise control over the method and means of performing the
work and not merely the exercise of actual
control.'" Cayer v. Cox Rhode Island Telecom,
LLC,85 A.3d 1140, 1144 (R.I. 2014) (quoting Absi v.
State Dep't of Admin.,785 A.2d 554, 556 (R.I. ...