ATA toll suit should be in state court, says fed court in dismissal

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Updated Mar 21, 2019

The American Trucking Associations’ lawsuit challenging Rhode Island’s truck-only tolls has been dismissed by a federal judge who said the case needs to be tried at the state level.

ATA has said it intends to continue its legal fight against the tolls.

“ATA is disappointed by today’s decision, in which the U.S. district court ruled that it was without power to hear ATA’s constitutional challenge to the discriminatory RhodeWorks truck-only tolls, and that the challenge must instead be brought in state court,” said ATA Deputy General Counsel Rich Pianka. “ATA is reviewing the decision and considering next steps but looks forward to vindicating its underlying claims on the merits, whatever the venue.”

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation filed for the case to be dismissed on the grounds that the tolls are considered taxes under the Tax Injunction Act (TIA), which states that federal courts do not have jurisdiction over state taxes.

U.S. District Court of Rhode Island Chief Judge William Smith in an order Tuesday agreed that the tolls are taxes and dismissed the case.

“Here, the facts are clear that the fees, while dubbed ‘tolls,’ are really a highly targeted and sophisticated tax designed to fund infrastructure maintenance and improvements that would otherwise need to be paid for by other forms of tax-generated revenue,” Smith wrote. “As such, the court is without jurisdiction under the TIA; the federal case must be dismissed and ultimately heard in the courts of Rhode Island.”

Rhode Island’s controversial RhodeWorks truck tolls plan was enacted in 2016. The first two of 14 toll gantries began collecting fees in 2018 at $3.25 once per day in each direction. When all 14 gantries are operational, truckers will be charged $20 total to travel I-95 across the state in one direction with a $40 maximum per day.

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