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March 13, 2020 1:30 PM, EDT

ATA Files for Preliminary Injunction in Rhode Island Truck-Tolls Suit

truck passing tollGetty Images

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American Trucking Associations has filed a motion in the U.S. District Court of Rhode Island for a preliminary injunction in the ongoing lawsuit against the state’s trucks-only tolling program.

An injunction is a court order restraining a party from continuing a specific action in order to avoid irreparable harm to the plaintiff. The plaintiffs, in this case ATA, Cumberland Farms Inc. and M&M Transport Services Inc., filed the motion March 12.

The trucks-only tolling system is part of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s RhodeWorks program, which is projected to generate $4.7 billion to finance infrastructure projects.

RhodeWorks sign

A RhodeWorks sign. (WPRI12 via YouTube)

The plaintiffs argue truck tolls discriminate against interstate commerce. If a state charges a user fee for access to channels of interstate commerce, that fee has to be a fair approximation of use and cannot discriminate between in-state and out-of-state interests. Many truckers rely on Interstate 95, which passes through Rhode Island, for hauls throughout the Northeast.

“Although the tolls will impose very substantial costs on truckers so long as they are in operation, Rhode Island — which considered, but chose not to use, constitutional means of funding road maintenance and construction — has no legitimate interest in the enforcement of illegal charges,” the motion document states.

ATA’s motion for a preliminary injunction is the latest development in the winding legal saga over Rhode Island’s truck-tolling program.

On March 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit denied the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s petition for a rehearing in the legal battle. The court’s decision denied both rehearing and rehearing en banc. Rehearing en banc refers to a situation in which all of the judges on a certain court, rather than a select few, hear a case.

RIDOT Director Peter Alviti

Alviti

RIDOT Director Peter Alviti filed a petition for rehearing en banc Jan. 2. In his petition, Alviti said an en banc hearing was necessary to allow the full court to deliberate about the proper test to determine whether a state law assessment is a tax or a regulatory fee for purposes of the Tax Injunction Act, which restricts the power of federal district courts to prevent the collection or enforcement of state taxes.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled Dec. 5 that the Rhode Island lawsuit is not barred by the Tax Injunction Act. The trucking industry hailed this decision as a victory because it meant its lawsuit could proceed in federal court. (The U.S. District Court of Rhode Island dismissed the trucking industry’s lawsuit in March 2019, a decision that the plaintiffs quickly appealed.)

ATA, Cumberland Farms Inc. and M&M Transport Services Inc. filed the initial lawsuit contesting the constitutionality of trucks-only tolling July 10, 2018. New England Motor Freight also was part of the lawsuit but has since filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and shut down operations.

The plaintiffs have expressed optimism that the merits of their case will lead them to victory.

“We are confident that we will prevail on the merits of our challenge, and therefore have asked the court to take this step to stop the ongoing unconstitutional harms these discriminatory tolls are inflicting on the trucking industry every day,” ATA Deputy General Counsel Rich Pianka said.

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