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March 5, 2020 6:30 PM, EST

Court Strikes Down RIDOT’s Petition for Rehearing in Truck Tolls Case

Rhode Island truck tollA truck passes under a toll gantry in Rhode Island. (WJAR.com)

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The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has denied the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s petition for a rehearing in the legal battle over trucks-only tolls.

The court’s decision, filed March 2, denies 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.

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. The system has been a point of contention for trucking industry representatives, who have filed a lawsuit against the tolls.

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.

Alviti’s petition was filed about a month after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that the trucking industry’s lawsuit is not barred by the Tax Injunction Act. The trucking industry hailed the decision as a win because it meant its lawsuit could proceed in federal court.

American Trucking Associations, 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.

ATA’s lawsuit argued that trucks-only 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.

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READ MORE: Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont Hits Pause on Trucks-Only Toll Vote

“Now that the court of appeals has rejected Rhode Island’s desperate attempt to further delay full hearing of this case, we look forward to proceed with litigating the merits of our challenge to the state’s discriminatory truck-only toll scheme,” said ATA spokesman Sean McNally.

Rhode Island Trucking Association President Chris Maxwell, an ardent opponent of the tolls, also described the petition as a delay tactic that has allowed RIDOT time to proceed with the construction of tolling gantries at certain locations throughout the state.

Chris Maxwell

Maxwell

“We suspect another delay tactic to be deployed in the coming days to allow the balance of gantries to be put up before the case finally receives a fair hearing and decision [at] its proper venue,” Maxwell said.

Kristy dosReis, spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General, said the office respects the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit’s decision not to review its initial decision again.

“We remain fully prepared to proceed and look forward to addressing the merits of the case,” dosReis said.

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