Hawkins Parnell & Young Paves the Way to Arbitration for Uber

June 24, 2020 – Press Release

June 24, 2020 (Atlanta, GA) – Hawkins Parnell & Young’s team led by Kimberly D. Stevens obtained a series of first impression orders compelling arbitration in actions filed against Uber and its subsidiaries. These orders were the first in Georgia to address online and in-app manifestation of assent to contractual terms as well as admissibility of evidence obtained through the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

  • On March 2, 2020, Kimberly D. Stevens and Willie C. Ellis, Jr. secured an order compelling arbitration from Judge Kimberly Anderson in DeKalb County State Court in Estate of Marcene Thornton v. Uber Technologies, Inc. et al. CAFN: 19A76990. Uber argued that Mr. Thornton, assented to the Uber Terms, including its arbitration provision, when: (1) he created his Uber App account via his smartphone and was notified that by doing so, he agreed to its terms and conditions that were provided via a hyperlink; (2) he was subsequently sent an email notifying him that ongoing use of the Uber App would manifest agreement to the updated terms and conditions, including updates to the arbitration terms; and (3) he used using the Uber App for which any reasonable consumer knows terms apply. Plaintiff primarily argued that the hyperlink in the registration process was insufficiently conspicuous to render assent and that Uber could not prove that Mr. Thornton actually received the subsequent email advising of updated terms. In line with courts across the nation and Georgia contract law, the Court found that he assented to Uber’s Terms and created a binding and enforceable arbitration agreement. At oral argument, Plaintiff conceded that the parties delegated arbitrability questions solely to the arbitrator and that Mr. Thornton’s estate was bound by his assent. The Court stayed the action pending the arbitrator’s decision on arbitrability.
  • On April 2, 2020, Kimberly D. Stevens secured an order compelling arbitration from Judge Susan Edlein in Fulton County State Court in Christin Friedman v. Uber Technologies (GA), Inc. et al., CAFN: 18EV004804. Based on a similar smartphone registration process, email notification regarding updated terms, and use of the Uber App, and rejecting similar opposing arguments as were rejected in Thornton, the Court found that Plaintiff agreed to Uber’s Terms and Conditions, including its arbitration provisions, and that any questions of arbitrability were delegated solely to the arbitrator. The Court dismissed the action against the Uber Defendants without prejudice.
  • On June 2, 2020, Kimberly D. Stevens secured an order compelling arbitration from Judge Ronda Colvin Leary in Gwinnett County State Court in Jennifer Long v. Uber Technologies (GA), Inc. et al., CAFN: 19C-6609-4. This case was slightly different because Plaintiff registered her Uber Account via the internet as opposed to in-app. Nonetheless, Plaintiff also contested assent arguing: (1) the website’s language advising Plaintiff that by creating an account, she was agreeing to the terms of use was insufficiently conspicuous for inquiry notice; (2) a unilaterally sent email updating terms was unenforceable; and (3) Uber’s evidence, partly using the Wayback Machine, was incompetent for Uber to meet its burden. Plaintiff conceded at oral argument that the arbitrator had the sole authority to evaluate issues of arbitrability. The Court found that Plaintiff assented to the Uber Terms, including their arbitration provisions and the Wayback Machine evidence could be authenticated and was therefore admissible. The Court stayed the action pending the arbitrator’s decision on arbitrability.

These decisions are significant wins for Hawkins Parnell’s client — they have created promising Georgia precedent for companies as they move forward in the digital age.