Prominent libertarian legal-defense group to aid taxi suit

Constitutional complaint against Metro regulations re-filed, this time with lawyers

A pro se federal lawsuit filed in February got a boost this week when a prominent libertarian legal-defense group joined the fray.

The Institute For Justice — perhaps best known for its involvement in prominent eminent domain lawsuits, including a losing effort in Kelo v. City of New London — has agreed to represent the plantiffs — Nashville taximen Syed Bokhari, Richard J. "Limo John" Simpkins and Allen VanPliet — in their case seeking a reversal of Metro's taxi regulations.

In a February pro se filing, Bokhari and Simpkins claimed Metro's new $45 minimum fee for limo service is a violation of anti-trust and price-fixing laws. In addition, the men alleged bans on "cruising for fares" and insurance requirements are unconstitutional restrictions on interstate commerce. They alleged a conspiracy between Metro government and the Tennessee Livery Association and that the TLA "delivered inducements" to at least one unnamed Metro Councilmember in the form of free limo rides and alcohol.

The two men also claimed a litany of constitutional violations related to Metro's limo ordinance, including restrictions on free speech for limits placed on certain paint jobs and labeling of the limos, Fourth Amendment claims due to drug-testing rules and requirements that certain paperwork be available for inspection at any time, and various equal protection claims made under the 14th Amendment.

Bokhari further claimed violations of the "14th and 15th Amendments," alleging Metro "oversight of the oligarchy" of limo services is de facto slavery. Presumably, Bokhari, who later compares himself to a "runaway slave," intended to claim violations of the 13th Amendment, which prohibits slavery, and not the 15th, which guarantees voting rights for all races.

The amended complaint filed Wednesday by IJ attorney Wesley Hottot re-asserts various 14th Amendment claims. Plantiffs allege a $45 minimum fee for limo service, a prohibition against used leased limos or vehicles more than five years old as for-hire cars, and a requirement that for-hire vehicle services use a central dispatch service are violations of the due process and privileges and immunities clauses. Further, the lawsuit claims the vehicle age requirement is a violation of the equal protection clause, because the requirement is "irrational" and doesn't consider safety features or vehicle condition.

Hottot said while minimum fares are not unique to Nashville — his group found eight other jurisdictions with a minimum fare — Music City's stands out because it appears to be "economic protectionism."

"The [Metro Taxi and Livery Commission] said they were trying to protect taxi cab companies through the minimum fare. It's not about public health or safety," he said. "We were ... struck by how unreasonable the regulations are. ... Nashville's [regulation] has been designed to put affordable car service out of business. It's the use of public power for private gain."

Because the case in Judge William J. Haynes' court was originally filed pro se, it was exempt from case managment rules. Now that IJ has signed on, the normal case management procedure will begin. The schedule is pending.