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Judge Says Uber Can’t Be Liable For ‘Heinous Crime’ Committed by Ex-Driver Who Kidnapped and Assaulted Woman


Brandon Sherman’s prison mug shot and a photo of car released by police. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and San Mateo Police Department.)

Uber on Thursday scuttled a federal lawsuit from a woman who was raped by a man posing as a driver in San Francisco, winning summary judgment from a judge who said the company can’t be held liable.

A nine-page order from U.S District Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley says the company has no legal duty to protect passengers from people who pose as drivers, rejecting an argument that the company’s failure to collect its decals from former drivers created an unreasonable risk.

A jury in San Mateo County, California, last year convicted Brandon Rio Sherman, now 44, of assaulting the woman in 2018 after she mistook his car for an Uber her boyfriend had called for her.

The company had deactivated Sherman as a driver after he was accused of kidnapping and sexual assault twice in six months. But he kept the Uber’s logo affixed to his vehicle, and his victim’s layers argued the company continued allowing riders to falsely believe that the logo was a reliable indicator of who is truly an Uber driver. The woman had asked her boyfriend to call her an Uber because her cell phone battery was low, her attorneys argued, and her phone soon shut off so she couldn’t confirm that the car was for her, except through its Uber logo.

But the arguments weren’t new. Lawyers for other women had made them in a similar lawsuit that was dismissed by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge. California’s 2nd District Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal in June, saying Uber and its related businesses “were not in a special relationship with the Jane Does that would give rise to a duty to protect the Jane Does against third party assaults, or to warn them about the same.”

Judge Corley cited the ruling in her order Thursday, saying it “foreclosed” each liability theory before her.

In sum, this Court does not analyze the duty question on a blank slate, wrote Corley, adding that she was required to follow the appellate ruling “absent convincing evidence that the California Supreme Court would not follow it.”

“The Court does not find such convincing evidence,” wrote Corley, a 2022 Biden appointee in the Northern District of California in San Francisco. She was a magistrate judge for 11 years and has presided over the case since it was filed in 2019, at the consent of both Uber and the woman’s lawyers. Uber is represented by Perkins Coie LLP while the woman is represented by Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger. They had not responded to a request for comment as of Thursday afternoon.

“There is no dispute that Plaintiff was the victim of a heinous crime,” Corley continued. “But California law does not provide a basis to hold Uber liable for her injuries.”

Sherman is serving an 11-year sentence in state prison after a jury convicted him May 2011 of kidnapping, assault and dissuading a witness.

Read the full judgment below:

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A graduate of the University of Oregon, Meghann worked at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, and the Idaho Statesman in Boise, Idaho, before moving to California in 2013 to work at the Orange County Register. She spent four years as a litigation reporter for the Los Angeles Daily Journal and one year as a California-based editor and reporter for and associated publications such as The National Law Journal and New York Law Journal before joining Law & Crime News. Meghann has written for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Bloomberg Law, ABA Journal, The Forward, Los Angeles Business Journal and the Laguna Beach Independent. Her Twitter coverage of federal court hearings in a lawsuit over homelessness in Los Angeles placed 1st in the Los Angeles Press Club's Southern California Journalism Awards for Best Use of Social Media by an Independent Journalist in 2021. An article she freelanced for Los Angeles Times Community News about a debate among federal judges regarding the safety of jury trials during COVID also placed 1st in the Orange County Press Club Awards for Best Pandemic News Story in 2021.