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Legal issuesTrucking Regulation

U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear OOIDA’s appeal of toll ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a case petitioned by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) involving the group’s battle against what it considers to be excessive tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

The high court on Monday denied certiorari (cert) on the petition, ending a fight that began in 2018 when OOIDA, along with National Motorists Association, B.L. Reever Transports, Flat Rock Transportation and Mulligan Trucking, filed a complaint in Pennsylvania district court against the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC). OOIDA wanted the Supreme Court to review the district court’s decision in April 2019 dismissing its lawsuit — a decision subsequently upheld in August by the Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit based in Philadelphia.

OOIDA warned that the Supreme Court’s cert denial sets a dangerous precedent.

“By not hearing the case, the court has essentially ensured that all highway users will be ATMs to fund everything under the sun, and from here on out, that is exactly what will happen in other states,” commented OOIDA Vice President Lewie Pugh. “We are dumbfounded that the highest court in the country thinks it’s OK for states to place the burden of solving their own bad decisions upon motorists and truckers by way of excessive tolls. It’s literally highway robbery.”

In addition to claiming that excessive tolls in Pennsylvania hurt interstate commerce, OOIDA claimed in district court that the PTC shifted some of the funds collected from tolls to projects that do not benefit the turnpike, which they said was a violation of the Commerce Clause.

The district court acknowledged that the distribution of funding in Pennsylvania “resulted in a statutory scheme that disproportionately burdens turnpike travelers with the costs of a state-wide transportation system that is of no direct benefit to them.” However, the court found the plaintiffs’ allegations “do not support a claim for violations of the dormant Commerce Clause or the constitutional right to travel.”

To illustrate it’s point about the size of the tolls, OOIDA’s cert request extrapolated the state’s tolls out to a national scale, claiming that a Class 8 truck would pay $3,169 to go from San Francisco to Atlantic City, New Jersey. “There is no indication that either the district court below or the Third Circuit considered these broader consequences if other states followed Pennsylvania’s lead,” according to the request. It also noted that revenues raised by the toll are 250-300% of the cost of operating the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

“Win or lose on appeal, the turnpike’s debt crisis and the commonwealth’s transportation emergency aren’t going away either,” OOIDA President Todd Spencer commented last year. “This is a crisis created by the legislature’s decisions, not our lawsuit.”

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John Gallagher, Washington Correspondent

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.

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