DOWNTOWN LA — A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has ruled that the City of Santa Monica did not violate the civil rights of Armenian or Armenian-American cab drivers when it awarded franchises to five taxi cab companies in June 2010.
Judge Mark V. Mooney Friday granted a motion for summary judgment submitted in July 2011, saying that the evidence presented by Deputy City Attorney Anthony Serritella established Santa Monica’s franchise system as “facially neutral,” and that the franchises were not awarded based on ethnicity.
A coalition of Armenian and Armenian-American cab companies sued City Hall after the franchises were awarded, alleging that City Hall discriminated against them by not awarding a franchise to an Armenian-run taxi company, despite the fact that five Armenian-run companies applied.
That claim was central to their lawsuit, but could not stand up in court, Serritella said.
“I showed that it was not true,” Serritella said. “The city didn’t solicit and consider that information when it awarded the franchise.”
And, even though City Hall did not take the ethnicities of applicants into account during the selection process, an Armenian-run company was awarded one of the five franchises, Serritella argued in a court document. The court ruling did not identify the company by name.
The franchise system, which allows five cab companies to operate a limited number of cars in Santa Monica, has been in place since a judge dismissed an injunction filed by the plaintiff, the Taxi Drivers Association of Santa Monica, in January.
In a four-page ruling, Mooney wrote that the franchises were awarded to the top five applicants based on “transparent, valid and neutral criteria.”
Furthermore, the plaintiff’s evidence was dismissed as inadmissible speculation and unreliable statistical information, specifically referencing the drivers’ claim that because over one-third of the applicants were Armenian companies, the fact that no Armenian companies were chosen proved bias.
That was simply untrue, said Paul Marron, an attorney representing L.A. Yellow Taxi and Bell Taxi, two companies that received franchises.
“It was a very fair process with the city that was sterling with integrity and impartiality. It’s good to see justice done,” Marron said. “There was nothing based on racial discrimination or unfairness.”
It’s unclear at this point if the plaintiff, the Taxi Drivers Association of Santa Monica, will appeal the court’s decision.
The association’s attorney, Randy McMurray of the Cochran Law Firm, said that there were holes in Serritella’s arguments that had yet to be addressed.
The only Armenian company to win a franchise did not list a single Armenian surname on its application, McMurray said.
“I think on that basis alone, it causes someone to question whether or not what appeared to be facially neutral was flawed,” McMurray said.
In addition, there were no public hearings about the criteria used to accept the franchises before they were applied.
“There’s an odor to it that troubles me,” McMurray said.