Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Taxi medallion litigation updated

In our continuing posts about issues related to the decrease in the value of taxi medallions in New York City, this month we are covering two lawsuits regarding the dramatic drop in taxi medallion values. The first lawsuit involves two taxi medallion owners who have filed lawsuits against the New York City and the Taxi and Limousine Commission (“TLC”). This lawsuit was reported in the New York Daily News on May 3, 2017. The plaintiffs, driver Marcelino Hervias and medallion owner William Guerra argue that: (1) the apps for hailing cars and burdensome rules have made taxi medallions practically worthless and have created unfair competition; (2) New York City and the TLC are bound by a rule to create standards ensuring medallion owners remain financially stable; (3) New York City allows the apps to dominate the streets and provide rides similar to taxis, but with none of the financial and legal burdens that medallion owners and drivers face; and (4) the driver has to work harder and longer to cover his monthly medallion loan payments and expenses. Mr. Hervias estimates that his business is down 30% and that he must work extra shift hours each day to make up the difference. Mr. Hervias also states that there is no market for medallions because financial institutions will not lend money to buy a medallion. The attorney for the plaintiffs indicated that this is the first suit of its kind as it pertains to the taxi industry. The article states that Mayor de Blasio and the City’s Corporation Counsel (the entity that defends the City against lawsuits) did not return requests by the Daily News reporter for comments.

The second case involves New York City credit unions that manage more than 2 billion dollars in taxi medallion loans are appealing a court ruling that rejected their argument that the TLC treatment of medallions violates the equal protection clause under the United States Constitution. (information about this lawsuit can be found in a May 4, 2017 post on cutimes.com). The credit unions’ legal argument was that medallion owners are required to comply with state regulations, while Uber, Lyft, Gett and other ridesharing services operate without being required to comply with the same regulations. The credit unions argue that such disparate treatment violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. However, on March 30, 2017, United States District Court Judge Alison J. Nathan ruled that there was no disparate treatment because a mobile app is not the same as hailing a medallion on the street. The judge wrote that “[q]uite simply, medallion taxicabs are not similarly situated to hire vehicles because medallion taxicabs… have . . . a monopoly over one particular form of hailing.” The ruling also notes that several courts around the country considering similar Equal Protection claims also came to the same holding. The original lawsuit was filed in November 2015 by Melrose Credit Union (‘Melrose”), Progressive Credit Union, LOMTO Federal Credit Union (“LOMTO”) and taxicab industry organizations and individual investors. The credit unions filed a notice of appeal on April 27, 2017 with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City.

It is this author’s opinion that individual lawsuits like that described in the Daily News article are expensive, could take years to conclude and the outcome or result is uncertain. With respect to Judge Nathan’s ruling, many taxi medallion owners would argue that “this is a distinction without a difference”. But Judge Nathan’s ruling is the law, unless it is reversed on appeal.

The cutimes.com article noted that Melrose was placed into conservatorship in February by the New York State Department of Financial Services. The article also states that LOMTO is undercapitalized, with a net worth of 5.87% according to the National Credit Union Administration.  

These two lawsuits would seem to suggest that litigation will not assist medallion owners whose medallions have dramatically decreased in value.

Many taxi medallion owners who’ve consulted with Shenwick & Associates own medallions, which, to use a finance term, are “underwater.” Underwater means that the value of the asset is less than the loan collateralized by the asset. In simple terms, many medallion owners have loans against the medallions totaling $700,000-$900,000 (or more) and the medallions presently are worth approximately $240,000. As Mr. Hervias noted in the Daily News article, if banks are not providing loans to medallion purchasers, in the future it will become increasingly difficult for buyers to buy medallions because of the lack of financing (unless they are all cash buyers).

What options are available for medallion owners? One possible solution may be for medallion owners and their organizations to lobby the City of New York and Mayor de Blasio to create a fund to compensate medallion owners due to the disparate treatment faced by medallion owners and the ridesharing services. Another solution is for the city or state to create an entity or mechanism to provide funding or financing for future medallion purchases. The city or state could also look to the ridesharing services to contribute to those funds, though the ridesharing services would argue that their technology is merely “disruptive” and that competition has decreased the value of medallions, not inappropriate actions on their part. Recent articles about the Uber culture would seem to suggest that Uber would not voluntarily contribute to such funds.

The issue for medallion owners is: (1) whether they should continue to make loan payments on their medallions, if the value of the loans exceeds the value of the medallions; (2) competition from the ridesharing services has reduced their earnings; and (3) banks are not lending money to finance medallion purchases. If a medallion owner stops making loan payments, he or she will be in default under their loan(s) and the banks can commence litigation to foreclose on the medallions and/or seek repayment of their loans.

As we discussed in a prior article dated February 2nd, medallion owners who stop paying their loans have four options: (1) arrange their financial affairs so that they are “judgment proof”; (2). negotiate an out-of-court settlement with the banks that financed their medallion purchases; (3) file for bankruptcy protection or (4) litigate with the banks that loaned them money to purchase their medallions (an expensive and often times losing proposition). The option that is best for an individual medallion owner depends on his or her facts and circumstances.

Medallion owners who need such counseling are urged to contact Jim Shenwick.

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