WASHINGTON (CN) - Plans to modernize D.C.'s taxicab fleet with new meter systems and dome lights do not violate taxi drivers' civil rights, a federal judge ruled.
A group made up of taxicab operators and passengers sued the D.C. Taxicab Commission and the city last year for adopting a modernization resolution that they claimed violated the Fourth and Fifth Amendment.
The commission countered that the cabbies had failed to state a claim, however, and U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle dismissed the action last week.
"The regulations at issue are 'facially neutral' and there is no
suggestion that they have been discriminatorily applied," Huvelle wrote.
Modernized cabs will feature new dome lights that lack the "call 911" feature included on the old ones, but drivers said the new lights put those with disabilities at risk unless they pony up the cash for a more expensive light.
"A taxicab driver with a disability has no other option but to purchase the more expensive dome light in order to accommodate their disability," the complaint said. "The new dome light requirement presents a cost prohibitive imposition upon the taxicab drivers with a disability and presents an employment obstacle because of the higher cost of the proper equipment to accommodate their disability."
The claim failed to sway Huvelle, however, as she noted that the complaint fails to plausibly allege whether "the Dome Light Regulation imposes a greater burden on [a disabled cab driver] ... than it imposes on drivers without disabilities."
New regulations will also allow GPS tracking of cabs and their passengers. The system works with a smart chip that reveals the identify of passengers who pay with a credit or debit card, as well as the time and locations from the moment they catch the cab to the time they disembark.
"All the information after a credit card transaction is processed is downloaded in real rime to the District of Columbia Taxicab Commission," the complaint had said. "This GPS tracking is an invasion of privacy for the driver and the passenger and is a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution."
But Huvelle saw no issue here because the "GPS tracking device does not constitute a Fourth Amendment search."
"A search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment occurs when the government trespasses on private property or when it infringes on an individual's 'reasonable expectation of privacy,''' Huvelle wrote, citing the Supreme Court's 2012 decision in United States v. Jones
The drivers failed as well with their claim that the "draconian measures" constituted a violation of the equal-protection clause since Choudhary Azam and the other lead plaintiffs "are literally all foreign born or are African-American."
"As there is no allegation that these regulations lack a rational basis, plaintiffs' equal protection claim cannot succeed," Huvelle wrote.
The judge dismissed the individual claims brought against the Taxicab Commission and the negligent training claim, as well.
Having dismissed the complaint, Huvelle deemed the drivers' bid for an injunction moot.