Did he or didn't he?
That's the question hanging over a lawsuit allegedly filed by an Uber driver, Jason Dalton, suspected of killing six people during a shooting spree in Michigan. The suit, filed in a handwritten note against the San Francisco-based ride-hailing startup Wednesday, blames the company for ruining Dalton's life.
It may actually be a fake.
Kalamazoo County Sheriff Paul Matyas said Dalton claimed he did not file the lawsuit. "He said no, he didn't file anything or ask anyone to file anything," said Matyas, reiterating what he had earlier told local news service MLive.com.
The suit was submitted by mail and claimed to come from the prison where Dalton is being held in custody.
The alleged hoax is the latest turn in the case of Dalton, 45, an Uber driver who has been in custody since a series of deadly shootings in Kalamazoo on February 20. Throughout the five-hour period in which shots were fired, Dalton was allegedly still providing rides for Uber customers.
The ordeal drew attention to Uber's background check process, which has been under scrutiny following a series of rapes and other attacks involving drivers and passengers. Last year, California prosecutors filed charges claiming Uber's background checks failed to weed out 25 drivers with criminal records.
Rod Hansen, the media relations officer for the US District Court in the eastern district of Michigan, said he hasn't heard of this sort of hoax before. "We're in uncharted waters," he said.
Paul Vlachos, the attorney for Dalton's family, expressed hope that the authorities find out who filed the lawsuit.
Hansen confirmed that the lawsuit had been received, placed on the docket and assigned to judges. But its filing fees have not yet been paid.
Dalton hasn't paid the $400 filing fee, and the suit may be dismissed if he doesn't respond to the bill. The court hasn't independently spoken with Dalton, according to Hansen.
In the handwritten two-page suit, which was postmarked Philadelphia and didn't match the suspect's handwriting, Dalton allegedly called Uber a hostile workplace and complained that the company didn't give him a Christmas bonus, pressured him to work odd hours and forced him to repair his car at his own expense after he hit potholes.
So how easy is it to file a hoax lawsuit, anyway?
"There is no one standing in the courthouse window verifying the facts before you file it," said David Cameron Carr, a legal ethics expert at Klinedinst PC. It's rare, though, mostly because filing fees for lawsuits can reach into the hundreds of dollars.
But if you've got the time and money, apparently it's easy to file fake lawsuits on behalf of pretty much anyone. "If you show up with your papers in the right format and pay the filing fee, the court doesn't have discretion to say we won't file it," he said.