In an opinion yesterday, Judge Rakoff denied a motion to dismiss a class action against Uber CEO Travis Kalanick alleging that he and Uber drivers had entered into an illegal conspiracy to fix Uber prices at those set by Uber’s algorithm. According to the complaint, this arrangement guarantees that the drivers will not be competing with one another on price. (It appears the plaintiff sued Mr. Kalanick instead of Uber because of standard arbitration agreements between Uber and its users.)
Judge Rakoff rejected Mr. Kalanick’s argument that a conspiracy involving “hundreds of thousands of independent transportation providers all across the United States” would be “implausible”:
[A]s plaintiff’s counsel pointed out at oral argument, the capacity to orchestrate such an agreement is the “genius” of Mr. Kalanick and his company, which, through the magic of smartphone technology, can invite hundreds of thousands of drivers in far-flung locations to agree to Uber’s terms. The advancement of technological means for the orchestration of large-scale price-fixing conspiracies need not leave antitrust law behind. The fact that Uber goes to such lengths to portray itself — one might even say disguise itself — as the mere purveyor of an “app” cannot shield it from the consequences of its operating as much more.