Sunday, July 22, 2012

City Slapps Taxi Company Owner

In March 2012, Gratchia Makarian, owner of Speck Cab Co. d.b.a Arrow/Checker Cab, sued the City of San Francisco, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) and Deputy Director of Taxi Services, Christiane Hayashi (photo). Using a spaghetti against a wall approach, Mr. Makarian alleged more than a dozen different violations ranging from denying Speck representation on the Taxi Advisory Council to engaging in “unlawful inspections” and investigations because of ethnic prejudice against Makarian. 
On June 19, 2012, the Superior Court of the State of California ruled in favor of the defendants. Specifically, the Court concluded that the Speck complaint was a “SLAPP Lawsuit.” 
For those of us who aren’t lawyers an explanation seems in order.  “SLAPP” is an acronym for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation” which is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate or silence critics so that they abandon their criticism or opposition. In other words, the Court found that Makarian had filed the complaint in order to stop Hayashi from investigating him.
If the person being sued convinces the court that the lawsuit is intended to intimidate, the “SLAPP” law requires that the lawsuit be dismissed and that the person who filed the lawsuit pay the legal costs of the defense.

In this case, Judge James J. McBride of the Superior Court wrote in his ruling,

“The Court denies the Anti-SLAPP motion as moot because plaintiffs dismissed the action. The Court concludes that the complaint is a SLAPP and awards $5,637.50 in fees to defendant City and County of San Francisco.”
Endemic Corruption.
Industry insiders broke out laughing when I first told them about the suit. Why?
How shall I put it so that I don’t get sued myself? To say that corruption is widespread in the taxicab business is like saying that my Irish relatives occasionally drink. Taxi companies make tens of millions of dollars a year from, among other things, forcing drivers to tip and pay illegally high leasing fees. There are three San Francisco cab companies - Green, Metro and Desoto - that DO NOT engage in such practices. No one in my presence has ever alleged that Gratchia Makarian has any connection with those three companies.
Who is defaming who?
In the complaint Makarian alleged that Hayashi and other members of the SFMTA had “defamed and discriminated against Speck because of Makarian’s national origin” and “perpetuated rumors that the Speck owners are part of Russian organized crime.”
In an interview with The Bay Citizen Makarian said ,“It is an extremely stupid allegation because I am Armenian ... “I have never been involved in any crime related to organized crime. I have a clean record.”
I found Makarian's allegations and statements interesting for a couple reasons: 
First, Ms. Hayashi is among the least likely people I've met to discriminate along racial or ethnic lines. 

Hayashi is currently taking time off to work as a volunteer interpreting for master Cuban percussionist, Lazaro Pedroso (photo left). She tells me she has been using her spare time to translate books he has written because, she says, "he deserves to be recognized in the English speaking world for his work in preserving Afro-Cuban religion and culture."

She has also worked as a volunteer with indigenous Mayan peoples in Mexico and speaks Japanese after living in Japan for several years and majoring in Japanese.
Second, rumors of Mr. Makarian’s supposed mafia ties are rife in the taxi industry, although I’ve never actually heard anyone say that he was a gangster. One person who gave me some details about Makarian's business practices did not want to go on record because  "Gratchia might belong to the mafia.” Other people have asked me, “Do you think Gratchia belongs to the Russian Mafia?” 
I put the same question to Hayashi a couple of months BEFORE Makarian filed his suit against her. The Deputy Director  told me that there was a difference between Russians and Russian speakers. She said that “Makarian was an Armenian who spoke Russian.” She concluded by adding, “just because somebody speaks Russian does not make them a member of the Russian Mafia.”
Let me repeat - this was months before Mr. Makarian accused Hayashi of claiming that he belonged to “Russian organized crime.”

Running a bluff.
Zusha Elinson in The Bay Citizen wrote that Makarian fancies himself a poker player who views the cab industry like a game.
“You have to read people and you have to know how people are coming at you,” he told Elinson.

Playing on this theme, an informant, who of course wishes to remain anonymous, suggested that Gratchia Makarian himself might have started the gangster rumors. Why not? Making cab drivers sign "independent contracts" leaves taxi company owners unfettered by labor laws or unions. They have the power to fire a driver without notice for any reason or no reason at all. Half of them strut around like Mafioso. Pretending to be a real thug would give Makarian an edge up in his game.

It might also have helped him to read the law more carefully so that he knew what game he was actually playing with Hayashi.
When the City Attorneys led by Leila K. Morgan filed an Anti-SLAPP motion, Makarian folded his hand and pulled back the complaint.
However, unlike most American laws, the Anti-SLAPP statute assumes that, if the plaintiff withdraws the complaint after the defense alleges that the only purpose of the action was to intimidate the defendant, the lawsuit was not legitimate. Not to answer an anti-SLAPP motion is an admission of guilt and the plaintiff must pay for the defendant's legal costs.
Makarian’s bluff did shackle the SFMTA’s investigators for a few months. But, in the end, it gave the agency legal and moral sanction to continue its fight against taxi company corruption; not to mention the $5,637.50 Makarian has to pay for the his losing hand.


  1. If anyone wants to read the suit .go here..

  2. Makarian got took by a lawyer and pays another $5k on top of the fees.
    next time he should ask if a suit is going to fly before he hands over the money.
    reminds me of the time a guy got in at SFO jumped in and said "I have 45 minutes and I want to see the golden gate bridge"
    Was I supposed to tell him the fog was so bad he would not see anything?

  3. Thank you for mentioning Metro in the story. Just for the record Metro does not allow tipping and never has. Not sure about Green but DeSoto does allow it and hopefully does not suggest it under new leadership. I believe that to be the case.

  4. One hears many stories about Mr. Makarian but one hears all kinds of non-sense in cab land so I won't repeat any of the dozens I've heard.
    What I know for sure is that one of his drivers came to me in 2001 and said that Checker was keeping $1200 due to him by an insurance co. because of an accident.
    I guided him thru small claims and he got a judgement. Checker refused to pay so the driver did an "Order of Examination" wherein defendant has to tell where the assets are. Still refused to pay so we had the Sheriff get the money. The record is on the Court website.
    I'm guessing this kind of thing is a fairly common and not at only Checker.

  5. looks like Gratch got took by one of those lawyers that will sue even though they know they can't win. They get paid either way.
    Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
    I hear it possible Gratch may take another stab at it. Probably got another shyster Lawyer telling him that the other guy was an idiot but he can do it.

  6. I think it would be foolish for him to do so. There are people, including myself, willing to testify on Hayashi's behalf.