Lawsuit claims DOT board failed to disclose public meeting about carrier fees

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Updated Oct 10, 2017

A trade group representing small business trucking companies and brokers has filed a lawsuit alleging the U.S. DOT’s Unified Carrier Registration Plan Board violated federal open meetings laws by not giving trucking industry stakeholders proper notice about a planning meeting held Sept. 14. The lawsuit seeks to reverse the decisions made by the board at the meeting.

The Unified Carrier Registration board, which oversees federal and state registration of motor carriers and brokers, met Sept. 14 to discuss changes to annual carrier registration fees, ultimately deciding to reduce fees across the board and to delay the annual renewal period’s start date from Oct. 1 to Nov. 1. SBTC didn’t say why it takes issue with the fee reduction, which seemingly benefits its members, but its chief complaint is the narrower payment window — now 60 days this year instead of 90.

The Small Business in Transportation Coalition filed a federal suit Sept. 27, claiming the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the UCR board failed to provide a formal seven-day public notice to alert trucking stakeholders and the public about the meeting and its time and location. Federal law requires public notices to be published in the Federal Register at least seven days in advance, the SBTC claims in its lawsuit. No public notice was published before the meeting, which is supposed to be open to the public.

FMCSA, which is not part of the lawsuit but is tasked with providing public notice of the meetings, said it does not comment on pending litigation.

FMCSA published a notice in the Federal Register on Sept. 20 announcing the proposal to reduce carrier registration fees for 2018 and 2019 and to delay the renewal period opening date to Nov. 1. It accepted public comment on the notice for 10 days. FMCSA spokesperson Duane DeBruyne said the agency will publish another notice with its final determination. He could not provide a timeline as to when the notice will be published.

In the Sept. 20 notice, FMCSA said the UCR’s revenue has exceeded statutory maximums in recent years, prompting the fee reduction. The reduction, FMCSA says, will range from approximately $7 to $6,700 per entity in 2018, and from approximately $3 to $3,400 in 2019, depending on the number of vehicles owned by the affected carriers.

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SBTC charges that “any action taken by the UCR Plan Board at the Sept. 14 meeting…is invalid and [should be] set aside,” due to the lack of required public notice. SBTC is asking the court overseeing the case, the U.S. District Court in D.C, to declare the meeting’s decisions invalid and enjoin the UCR from “refusing to accept UCR registrations and payment of UCR fees for 2018…” The court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case this week.

The Small Business in Transportation Coalition is headed by James P. Lamb, who’s under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission for allegedly posing as a DOT agent as a means to bilk owner-operators and small carriers out of nearly $20 million in sum, the FTC claims. Lamb and business partner Uliana Bogash deny the FTC’s accusations and have countersued, claiming the FTC’s allegations have damaged their reputations and their businesses.

–Matt Cole contributed to this report.