Taxi firm claims drivers used data to help competitor

By Alex Bridges

A Front Royal taxicab company claims former drivers used customer data and intercepted calls for a competitor.

Yellow Cab of the Shenandoah filed a complaint in Warren County Circuit Court on Aug. 27 that alleges drivers who went to work for A-1 Taxi this year began to contact customers of the former employer using a secret list and invoices in an effort to bring in more business.

Manassas attorney David W. Silek represents Yellow Cab. Silek was unavailable for comment Monday. Information filed in the court indicates defendants have been served with the complaint. Silek sent a letter to Jenna Weatherholtz, identified as the registered agent for A-1 Taxi, 27 S. Royal Ave., Front Royal. Silek advised the company that the hiring by A-1 Taxi of the former Yellow Cab drivers had breached their independent contractor agreements.

Silek advised that each driver had received cease and desist letters from Yellow Cab as of Aug. 1 informing them of alleged violations.

The case came before Judge Dennis Hupp in Warren County Circuit Court on Sept. 16. Harrisonburg attorney Michael W. Helm appeared for A-1 Taxi. Hupp continued the case to Oct. 21 because the response time for the defendants had not yet expired, a court order stated. Helm could not be reached for comment Monday.

Yellow Cab has asked the court to award it up to $900,000 in damages. Yellow Cab also has asked the court to order the former drivers identified in the lawsuit to surrender all documents showing how the company lists from 2009 to the present were used; to return the customer lists and invoices to the plaintiff; to destroy all copies of the lists, invoices, pricing schedules and rate information.

The plaintiff has asked the court to enjoin or keep A-1 Taxi from using the individual drivers as independent contractors for a period of one year; making copies of the customer lists and invoices, pricing schedules and rate information; contacting Yellow Cab customers; and destroying their copies of the documents.

The lawsuit comes a few months after Yellow Cab representatives asked Front Royal Town Council to institute regulations for taxi companies and their drivers. The town has sought the opinion of the state attorney general’s office on how far regulations can go.

Front Royal currently has no ordinance to regulate taxicabs or require companies from obtaining certain permits to operate in the town limits. Council is considering rules that would keep registered convicted sex offenders from driving taxis. Councilman Bret Hrbek has said that state laws prohibit registered sex offenders from being near areas where children are known to be. Hrbek has said that Yellow Cab asked the town to implement regulations in an effort to gain an advantage over their competitors.

Yellow Cab began operating in Front Royal in early 2008. The complaint identifies Anthony Elar Jr. as director and officer of Yellow Cab. Elar developed, maintained and safeguarded a secret customer list and invoices for his company.

The complaint states that Yellow Cab contracted Robert Passamore from March 20, 2010 to April 26, 2013; Charles Forbus from Jan. 3, 2013 until Jan. 11, 2013; Timothy Cooke on Sept. 26, 2011 and then from April 23, 2012 to April 2, 2013; Carl Brown III from Dec. 7, 2011 to April 14, 2013.

Yellow Cab claims Cooke announced April 1, 2013, that he would quit his employment with the firm and then went to work for A-1 Taxi. Cooke then recruited the remaining defendants, the complaint states.

“Upon the departure of these independent contract drivers for Yellow Cab of the Shenandoah, LLC, the plaintiff began to receive telephone calls from customers stating that the former contractors to Yellow Cab of the Shenandoah had begun to solicit their business,” the complaint states.

The complaint states that the individual defendants took the customer lists and invoices to gain commercial advantage over Yellow Cab. The complaint also states “files within Yellow Cab of the Shenandoah LLC were tampered with.” Yellow Cab also claims that the defendants “used pricing and rate information of the plaintiff to gain advantage.” Yellow Cab claims the defendants “listened to Yellow Cab of the Shenandoah, LLC radio transmissions via a scanner on their frequency and intercepted their calls and picked up their customers.”

The defendants and A-1 Taxi have used the customer list and invoices to contact and solicit clients. The defendants have called customers on the list and invoices to set up new client driving appointments.

“Yellow Cab of the Shenandoah, LLC, has suffered and continues to suffer irreparable financial damage as a result of the defendants’ actions,” the complaint states. “Unless the individual defendants and A-1 Taxi, LLC, are enjoined from using the Yellow Cab of the Shenandoah, LLC, customer list it is likely that A-1 Taxi, LLC, and the individual contractors will succeed in gaining a competitive advantage over Yellow Cab of the Shenandoah, LLC.”

Counts in the lawsuit claim A-1 Taxi committed misappropriation of trade secrets, common law breach of fiduciary duty, statutory civil conspiracy and common law conversion.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com