Metro denied summary judgment in livery rates case

Companies say regulation drawn up to protect higher-priced competitors

Metro Nashville officials have been denied in their motion for summary judgement in federal court over litigation concerning minimum fees for livery services.

In 2010, the Metro Council passed an ordinance requiring a $45 minimum fare as proposed by the Metropolitan Transportation Licensing Commission. The ordinance directly targeted a profitable niche that some transportation companies had created. Instead of charging $40 for rides to the airport like cab companies do, some livery services charged $25 for rides in black sedans. Most cab companies offer a $25 flat rate from a downtown zone and the Gaylord Opryland complex to the airport, but prices outside the zone are based on mileage.

But the MTLC stepped in, arguing that if taxis required regulation, other “for-hire” car companies were subject to them as well. Three livery companies filed suit in 2011 over the ordinance, saying it only served to protect higher-priced competitors. The livery services are being represented by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm based in Seattle.

It came to light during the case that the MTLC's proposed rules originally did not include minimum-fare language. It was instead inserted by the Metro Council at the request of the Tennessee Livery Association and Gaylord Entertainment.

The Tennessee Livery Association is identified in court records as an association "made up of expensive limousine companies." The TLA and Gaylord wrote the bill and it was introduced by Metro Councilman Bo Mitchell at their behest.

U.S. District Court Judge Kevin Sharp last week swatted down a move by Metro to end the case. In his ruling, Sharp states, "Because Plaintiffs have presented sufficient evidence to raise a question of fact as to whether passage of the ordinance furthered a legitimate governmental interest rather than mere economic protectionism, Metro's Motion for Summary Judgment will be denied."

Sharp also set a trial date for late January.