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Gonzalez v. Village Taxi Corp.

Supreme Court of New York, Second Department

November 8, 2017

Dolores Gonzalez, et al., respondents,
v.
Village Taxi Corp., et al., appellants, et al., defendants.

          Richard Paul Stone, New York, NY, for appellants Village Taxi Corp., P.C. Taxi Corp., Luso American Taxi, Inc., Pedro Montoya, Yodna Vivanco-Small, and Zoila Ivarra.

          Leavitt Legal PLLC, White Plains, NY (Benjamin L. Felcher Leavitt of counsel), for appellant Anean Goyburu Corp.

          Collins, Fitzpatrick & Schoene, LLP, White Plains, NY (Ralph F. Schoene of counsel), for respondents.

          RUTH C. BALKIN, J.P. CHERYL E. CHAMBERS JOSEPH J. MALTESE COLLEEN D. DUFFY, JJ.

          DECISION & ORDER

         In an action, inter alia, to recover damages for violation of General Business Law § 340 (the Donnelly Antitrust Act), the defendants Village Taxi Corp., P.C. Taxi Corporation, Luso American Taxi, Inc., Pedro Montoya, Yodna Vivanco-Small, and Zoila Ivarra appeal, and the defendant Anean Goyburu Corp. separately appeals, as limited by their respective briefs, from so much of a judgment of the Supreme Court, Westchester County (Smith, J.), dated March 31, 2014, as, upon the denial of that branch of their motion which was pursuant to CPLR 4401 for judgment as a matter of law dismissing the causes of action alleging violations of General Business Law §§ 340 and 349 and injurious falsehood insofar as asserted against them, and upon a jury verdict finding, inter alia, that they violated General Business Law §§ 340 and 349 and awarding damages to the plaintiff Coqui Taxi Corporation, is in favor of that plaintiff and against them in the principal sums of $787, 000 for compensatory damages and $50, 000 for punitive damages.

         ORDERED that the judgment is reversed insofar as appealed from, on the law, with costs payable to the appellants appearing separately and filing separate briefs, and that branch of the appellants' motion which was pursuant to CPLR 4401 for judgment as a matter of law dismissing the causes of action alleging violations of General Business Law §§ 340 and 349 and injurious falsehood insofar as asserted against them is granted, and those causes of action are dismissed insofar as asserted against the appellants.

         Pursuant to the Code of the Village of Port Chester (hereinafter Village Code), there were 75 taxicab licenses, or medallions, available in the Village. In addition to other licensing requirements, the Village Code provides that "[n]o [taxicab] license shall be issued unless said person and vehicle are affiliated with a dispatching company duly licensed under the provisions of this chapter" (Village Code § 295-11[A]). A "DISPATCH COMPANY" is defined as "[a]ny person(s), corporation, partnership or other entity that solicits or receives requests for taxi service" (Village Code § 295-1).

         Prior to 2009, the Village Code provided for four taxi dispatch licenses (see Village Code § 295-20[E][1]), and four taxicab companies each held one of the dispatch licenses. Those companies are the defendants Village Taxi Corp. (hereinafter Village Taxi), P.C. Taxi Corporation (hereinafter P.C. Taxi), Luso American Taxi, Inc. (hereinafter Luso Taxi), and Anean Goyburu Corp., which was also known as RC Taxi (hereinafter RC Taxi).

         On February 25, 2009, notwithstanding that the Village Code provided for only four taxi dispatch licenses, the Village issued a fifth taxi dispatch license to the plaintiff Dolores Gonzalez. Approximately three months later in May 2009, the Village Code was amended to permit the issuance of a fifth dispatch license (see Village Code § 295-20[E][1]). Gonzalez used the dispatch license to open the plaintiff Coqui Taxi Corporation (hereinafter Coqui) as the Village's fifth taxi company. Gonzalez and her boyfriend, the plaintiff Carlos Pereya, each had their own medallion taxi and worked as taxi drivers for Coqui.

         Licensed drivers who operate their own medallion taxicabs typically enter into an arrangement with a licensed taxi dispatch company, whereby the driver pays the taxi company a daily or weekly fee for its dispatch service to receive calls for passenger pickups from the company's dispatcher. It was common for medallion drivers to move from one taxi company to another for dispatch services. Providing a dispatch service is one source of revenue for a taxi company in the Village. Another source of revenue for a taxi company that owns licensed medallion taxicabs is to rent those vehicles to taxi drivers who do not have their own medallion taxicabs. At all times relevant to this appeal, Coqui had no additional licensed medallion taxicabs to rent to taxi drivers. Accordingly, aside from the fares earned by Gonzalez and Pereya as drivers, Coqui anticipated that its primary source of revenue would come from dispatch service fees charged to medallion drivers who had their own licensed taxicabs.

         However, after Coqui opened for business, only two medallion drivers used Coqui's dispatch service, and they did so for only three weeks. Gonzalez believed that Coqui's failure to attract medallion drivers to its dispatch service was attributable to certain disparaging remarks about Coqui and threats against drivers that were broadcast over the dispatch radio by the defendant taxi companies.

         The plaintiffs commenced this action against the defendant taxi companies and their individual owners (hereinafter collectively the appellants), among others, to recover damages, inter alia, for a violation of General Business Law § 340 (the Donnelly Antitrust Act) based on an alleged agreement causing a restraint on trade, and for alleged deceptive trade practices in violation of General Business Law § 349, as well as a cause of action alleging injurious falsehood. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant companies grew concerned about their profitability when the Village issued a fifth dispatch license to Gonzalez and, as a result, the defendant companies formed an agreement or conspiracy to make concerted efforts to dissuade medallion drivers from using Coqui's dispatch service. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant companies used their dispatchers to make disparaging remarks about Gonzalez and Coqui and to threaten medallion drivers over the dispatch radio. The plaintiffs further alleged that these threats and disparaging remarks perpetrated by the defendant companies inflicted economic harm on Coqui.

         At a jury trial, the plaintiffs presented 10 witnesses, including the owners of the defendant companies. Since the defendant owners testified on the plaintiffs' case, the defendants did not present any additional witnesses.

         Michael Martinez, a former taxi dispatcher, testified that at different times over the years, he had worked as a dispatcher for all four defendant companies. He testified that he was directed by individual defendant owners to say unpleasant things about Coqui over the radio from approximately 2009 until 2012 or 2013, but he did not expressly describe an agreement between the defendant owners. Martinez stated that he used the dispatching radio to cast aspersions on Gonzalez's character and describe Coqui as an illegal company. Additionally, he stated that he was given instructions ...


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