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J'accuse!
July 12, 2005 7:54 AM   Subscribe

You thought the US had all the frivolous lawsuits? You thought that Russian astrologer had the "stupidest lawsuit ever" award all sewn up? Think again. French bus service Transports Schiocchet Excursions is suing a group of ten women who carpool to work every day, alleging unfair competition with their bus line. Among TSE's demands: confiscation of the defendants' cars. Groklaw has more, including excerpts from an interview in French which tosses around the delicious term "covoiturage".
posted by ubernostrum (41 comments total)

 
Wow. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.
posted by bshort at 7:58 AM on July 12, 2005


Well, this IS the stupidest lawsuit ever.

It's a good idea to get the word out about this, so that more and more people who would otherwise use TSE's buses may consider other transport options and kick the bastards all the way to bankruptcy court..
posted by clevershark at 7:59 AM on July 12, 2005


Not only that, but it sounds as if this private consortium mass transit venture is a highly sexist enterprise. Distasteful.
posted by nervousfritz at 8:04 AM on July 12, 2005


Ah, Corporatism!

How long out do you think it'll be until some big resturaunt starts suing people who cook their own food, or a credit card company sues someone who pays for with cash, something that would have been much better paid for on credit, thus depriving the company of revinue.

They're re-writing the laws now, they can afford lawyers, and some have their own police forces.
posted by Balisong at 8:18 AM on July 12, 2005


Those bus drivers are afraid that if too much of the French public starts carpooling the next time the go on strike no one will notice.
posted by three blind mice at 8:19 AM on July 12, 2005


In Montreal, several years ago, a few companies had banded together to arrange a free shuttle service for their employees, running from the downtown core to Old Montreal (not a long distance, but one that was inconvenient by public transport as only a few buses run down there, and they're all on long intervals).
The shuttle service was shut down a few years ago by the public transport service, citing some law that stated that a shuttle could not operate if public transport operated within 50 feet of it - some sort of non-compete law, I assume, knowing nothing of such matters.
The notification letter helpfully pointed out that companies could just buy bus passes for all their employees instead. Awww, how thoughtful.
posted by Billegible at 8:27 AM on July 12, 2005


In Canada, O Canada, there is a carpooling service called "Allo Stop" (based in Quebec) which was forced to cease operating in Ontario by Greyhound, Voyageur, and Trentway bus lines.

Details here. Click on the struck-out "Ontario"
posted by growli at 8:29 AM on July 12, 2005


on preview: Billegible explains it better than the petition in French, if you don't read that language.
posted by growli at 8:30 AM on July 12, 2005


Here is the Allo Stop Ontario link in english.
posted by Chuckles at 8:47 AM on July 12, 2005


I'm suing you all for reading MetaFilter instead of my site. You'll be getting cease-and-desist letters in the morning.
posted by languagehat at 9:00 AM on July 12, 2005


Regulation enforcement like this happens all the time. Strangely it is to ensure a safe ride for everyone. Take taxis for example. Most places regulate both the number of taxis and the minimum rate they can charge. This is to ensure there is a fighting chance for the owners to make enough money to maintain their equipment. Because the capital costs to enter the business are so low there would otherwise be a continous race to the bottom of pricing and excess capacity. Now your gut feeling may be that excess capacity is good. But would you want to ride in the cab whose owner has only had 10 fares a day for the past three months?

Not to say I agree with the French bus company or the steps taken against allo stop just that they are at the boundries between two conflicting public goods.
posted by Mitheral at 9:00 AM on July 12, 2005


languagehat has the right idea, but I'm going to go a step further and sue everyone who goes to any other website except mine.
posted by clevershark at 9:07 AM on July 12, 2005


That's worse than "Coupon: The Movie" vs. the people of the United States.
posted by phirleh at 9:14 AM on July 12, 2005


Oh yeah, this'll work really well, I'm sure.

By the way, I'm suing everyone who doesn't have my website as their home page.
posted by fenriq at 9:14 AM on July 12, 2005


Take taxis for example. Most places regulate both the number of taxis and the minimum rate they can charge.

And a New York taxi medallion costs $275,000.
posted by bobo123 at 9:16 AM on July 12, 2005


But would you want to ride in the cab whose owner has only had 10 fares a day for the past three months?

Um... why not? If there's that much excess capacity, there should be other cabs nearby that would be more than happy to take you where you're going. Anyway, if the profit to be had for cabbing were to get that low, wouldn't it make it a lot less desirable for people to get into the field?

Anyway, seems to me that once you reduce fractions, this story is essentially, "Look how stupid is Transports Schiocchet Excursions." Oddly, the Groklaw story ultimately turns out to be about SCO and the Microsoft monopoly. Hmm.
posted by JHarris at 9:16 AM on July 12, 2005


[cleaned up front page formatting a bit]
posted by jessamyn at 9:19 AM on July 12, 2005


There is a somewhat similar problem in Ontario right now with regard to food safety (similar in the sense of Mitheral's comment that is). Search for "rural food" on this page for information.
posted by Chuckles at 9:19 AM on July 12, 2005


God that is an awful suit.

I think the astrologist one is even dumber and has no legitimate argument, though. This one, besides being utterly stupid and terrible PR, at least has a legal argument that can be made.

I suppose if a company invests capital and in return is granted exclusive rights to something, then they have a legitimate to protect those rights. These ladies were just carpooling, but the argument is stronger if it was a lady in a van starting a bus service to compete. I think we could see the legal argument if she was doing that. The problem here is the conflation between a competitive enterprise and an individual act that has no intent to compete for a fungible dollar.

We grant exclusive rights all the time in this country. For instance, copyright law or patents. Or government licenses to permit exclusive service argreements to utility companies or hospitals. If I open up a competitive enterprise in derogation of that, then a claim to be made. So there is some legal argument that can be made.... its just the stupid one that takes a carpool situation as competition.

However, the asteroid one is complete nonsense. There are no grounds at all to sue someone for ruining the natural balance of the universe. That is just plain insane. And it makes a nice counterpoint to that chain email that circulates with fictional "Real Lawsuits"---this astrologist shows that real life is always stranger than fiction.
posted by dios at 9:21 AM on July 12, 2005


putain, c'est le comble de l'imbécilité.
posted by ruelle at 9:31 AM on July 12, 2005


Mitheral: ...it is to ensure a safe ride for everyone. Take taxis for example. Most places regulate both the number of taxis and the minimum rate they can charge. This is to ensure there is a fighting chance for the owners to make enough money to maintain their equipment. ...they are at the boundries between two conflicting public goods.

I have no problem with that basic premise, i.e., that for-profit enterprises that offer services to the public may be regulated in order to improve the public good.

But does it reasonably apply to the car-pooling cleaning ladies? The car pool doesn't appear to be a for-profit operation, so appealing to the bottom line in the name of safety doesn't apply - there is no bottom line. The car pool doesn't appear to be a service open to just any schmuck that needs to get from A to B, so it's not public in any sense, therefore regulations intended to improve the safety of the car pool passengers can't be said to serve the "public good" in this case.
posted by Western Infidels at 9:38 AM on July 12, 2005


Just as free speech doesn't entitle you to a dais and audience whenever you feel like saying something, free enterprise doesn't entitle you to force people to use your service.
posted by clevershark at 9:44 AM on July 12, 2005


I find it most objectionable that the bus company wants these ladies' cars confiscated. It's not enough to stop them carpooling (which would only be a truly competitive business enterprise if they were charging for the service outside of gas money), no, they need to keep them off the roads completely.

I might have laughed at this lawsuit had it not included an attempt to curtail personal mobility so completely, not to mention the confiscation of personal property. Now I'm just angry.
posted by angeline at 9:47 AM on July 12, 2005


clevershark writes "Just as free speech doesn't entitle you to a dais and audience whenever you feel like saying something, free enterprise doesn't entitle you to force people to use your service."

The way things are going, soon we will be saying "...free enterprise shouldn't entitle you to force people to use your service."
posted by nkyad at 9:47 AM on July 12, 2005


More wacky court cases, including U.S. v. Satan.
posted by sciurus at 9:53 AM on July 12, 2005


Good point, Western Infidels. AlloStop may not have a case if they are a pay service, they may have to license their drivers and pass the expense on to their customers.

But this one is a private carpool. The company does not subsidize it. It's a stupid suit.
posted by linux at 9:54 AM on July 12, 2005


Ah, Corporatism! ... They're re-writing the laws now, they can afford lawyers, and some have their own police forces.

Just to be clear, the real meaning of "corporatism" refers to the official delegation of government functions to groups that resemble labor unions more than American-style business ventures.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 10:02 AM on July 12, 2005


If you're interested in these sorts of lawsuits, Randy Cassingham's Stella Awards will educate you.
posted by Daddio at 10:12 AM on July 12, 2005


The problem here is the conflation between a competitive enterprise and an individual act that has no intent to compete for a fungible dollar.

Right, but in the entitlement culture bred by the corporate welfare state, individual or private collective action that deprives a company of revenue is taken to be competition. Ignoring economies of scale and opportunity cost of individual labor (and yes, that is a lot of ignoring), private collective action will always be cheaper than action by a corporation, because so many of the corporation's resources are tied up in activities that are not directly productive (marketing/advertising/sales, research and development, logistics, human resources, executive functions, etc.)

Any state that seriously considers public-good regulation of competition to imply guaranteed revenue, and restricts the economic freedoms of its individual citizens to that end, deserves the third-world status it's hurtling toward.
posted by Vetinari at 10:13 AM on July 12, 2005


JHarris writes "If there's that much excess capacity, there should be other cabs nearby that would be more than happy to take you where you're going. Anyway, if the profit to be had for cabbing were to get that low, wouldn't it make it a lot less desirable for people to get into the field?"

A cabbie how has had that little income won't be doing anything but absolutely required maintence. Badly worn tires, marginal brakes, loose steering, that kind of thing would be everywhere.

You would think it would stop people from entering but there are a lot of optimists out there. When I was involved with oil recycling we could often get idle truckers who were desperate for any cash flow at all to haul oil for less than it would cost us for fuel. They basically would be making zero if not negative profit and not be covering operating and overhead costs. Yet there are lots of people entering the trunking market and lots of people going broke.
posted by Mitheral at 10:34 AM on July 12, 2005


Isn't this similar to the arguments that music piracy reduces the opportunity for future music sales?
posted by sandking at 10:38 AM on July 12, 2005


Western Infidels writes "But does it reasonably apply to the car-pooling cleaning ladies?"

Nope but it can and will be argued that they are undermining the market. Understand I don't agree with the suit I'm just throwing out why it may not be as cut and dried asinine as it appears at first glance.

Another fun transportation regulation: in many places if you are transporting more than a X number of persons who aren't related to you on anything but a strict ad-hoc basis you are required to get a chauffeurs driver's license and/or carry special insurance coverage. Where X is often as low as 3. X can be as low as 0 if you are getting any compensation, even just gas or parking money. That hitchhiker passing you a few bucks for gas is technically illegal in some places. AlloStop would seem to be firmly in that zone as they are actually paying the drivers. I'd bet Quebec's X is four and that is why their payment examples are for three people.

sandking writes "Isn't this similar to the arguments that music piracy reduces the opportunity for future music sales"

Maybe. However there is no public safety issue if an artist doesn't generate enough revenue in any particular period. There is also a perceived public image requirement. For example many port authorities will limit the age of cabs they will grant airport licenses to. IE: any cabs allowed to pick passengers up at the airport must be newer than Z years where Z is often in the range of 3-6. Cabs are often required to have four doors which is also a public safety regulation.
posted by Mitheral at 10:53 AM on July 12, 2005


Vetinari, excellent points. I concur, for the most part. I think you overstate your case, to an extent. While you are correct in that any artificial regulation is always inefficient, I can imagine some situations in which regulation of exclusive licenses might be beneficial in the long run, e.g., the underlying theory behind intellectual property rights.
posted by dios at 11:02 AM on July 12, 2005


Amusing I suppose, but doesn't this rest on exactly the same principle as WICKARD v. FILBURN, wherein a farmer growing wheat solely for the consumption of his family was judged to have somehow negatively impacted interstate commerce? So now everything you do is open to federal interference?
posted by Nahum Tate at 11:29 AM on July 12, 2005


I'd just like to point out that the Ontario Allo Stop ban and the Montreal shuttle ban that I mentioned are completely unrelated... people seem to be squishing them into one bundle.
posted by Billegible at 11:49 AM on July 12, 2005


dios: Indeed. I was trying to express that the corporate form as presently practiced in the Western world is inefficient, but for the most part we put up with these inefficiencies because we like pencils and don't want to put up with the hassle of personally refining graphite, tapping rubber trees, and running intensive forestry operations.

This is, however, sort of an aside to the central point. Exclusive licenses of all sorts have their place (patents, when properly protected against stupidity; copyright; trademarks and other namespace protection devices; private real property ownership; capital-intensive utilities and transportation rights-of-way; etc.). Restated, the real problem is that people who hold these licenses tend to misunderstand that they are restricted in scope, and are not in fact exclusive licenses to print money. Often, for some period of time, they tend to function as such, but when events outside the scope of the license change (or the license expires, as patents were designed to), revenue dries up. In the mythical Free Market, organizations plan for this, and it functions as the inducement to innovation. Instead, as we see here, it increasingly functions as an inducement to litigation.

One scope restriction that should (and, de facto, often does) apply to most exclusive license arrangements is an explicit acknowledgement that individuals working noncommercially for individual good are exempt from exclusion. My wife can sing me "Happy Birthday" instead of picking up a CD. I can put solar panels on my roof instead of paying the power company for light and hot water. Erosion of this arrangement in the face of threats to "protected" revenue streams is where the danger lies. For if you force your population to be nothing more than consumers in their personal lives, don't be surprised when individual initiative falls from one generation to the next.
posted by Vetinari at 1:18 PM on July 12, 2005


So these ladies carpooled instead of taking the bus? Why is TSE only suing them? Why not everyone who uses any means of transport other than the bus? Why not sue everyone who drives or flies or rides a train or bike or walks instead of taking the bus? Since the carpool isn't for profit, it does not compete for TSE's business. Did the French government grant TSE exclusive rights to transportation in the country?
posted by krash2fast at 1:37 PM on July 12, 2005


Billegible writes "the Ontario Allo Stop ban and the Montreal shuttle ban that I mentioned are completely unrelated... people seem to be squishing them into one bundle."

growli's comment after yours implies they were the same case which is where the confusion comes from I think.
posted by Mitheral at 2:26 PM on July 12, 2005


krash2fast writes "Did the French government grant TSE exclusive rights to transportation in the country?"

Well along that route anyways. In Canada and the US you need a license/permit to pick up passengers and transport them by bus. These permits are in limited supply. It sounds like France has similiar regulations, depending on what the French legal definition of bus service is they could be seen as competing. Actual profit doesn't really come into it. If money is involved in the definition the fact that anyone kicked in for gas is probably all the trigger they need. If profit was required a big company could take over a market in short order by offering competing rides for free until the smaller company went under and then buying up the licenses. Of course the reason these women are being sued is the company noticed a 10-25% reduction in ridership along this route five days a week. And/or a border guard or competing cleaning service tipped them off.
posted by Mitheral at 2:41 PM on July 12, 2005


where is the line drawn between public and private? and who draws that line? seems to me we muddle these lines more and more everyday...at the expense of freedom and liberty.
posted by brandz at 8:42 PM on July 12, 2005


brandz writes "who draws that line?"

Goverments do of course.
posted by Mitheral at 6:22 AM on July 14, 2005


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