Supreme Court petitioned to hear OOIDA’s Pennsylvania toll lawsuit

After a defeat in a federal appeals court, OOIDA is asking the Supreme Court to take on its Pennsylvania toll lawsuit.

February 2020

Tyson Fisher

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Editor’s note: On Jan. 27, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected OOIDA’s petition to hear the appeal. Read that story here.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association’s fight against Pennsylvania’s tolls is not over. Not willing to go down easily, OOIDA petitioned to the United States Supreme Court to hear its case against tolls that the Association contends are unconstitutional.

On Dec. 11, OOIDA filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court in its lawsuit arguing that Pennsylvania’s tolls are unconstitutional. In August, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a lower court’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit.

Along with the National Motorists Association, OOIDA claims the tolls are excessive and burdensome. The petition asks the Supreme Court to consider two key issues:

  • Did Congress authorize states to impose excessive tolls without regard to limitations under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution when it enacted a statute that addresses how tolls are spent but was silent as to toll collection?
  • Did the Third Circuit err in holding that a state law’s actual deterrence of travel is a necessary element of a claim under the constitutional right to travel?

Regarding the first question invoking the Commerce Clause, OOIDA points out that various federal courts of appeals are divided as to whether congressional intent to authorize exceptions to the Commerce Clause may be implied from legislative silence. A similar split in opinions can be found in various federal appeals courts regarding the second question to the Supreme Court.

Appellate court opinion

On Aug. 13, the appellate court concluded that Congress did in fact allow Pennsylvania to use toll revenue for nonturnpike purposes.

OOIDA argues that Congress did not foresee a state increasing tolls by more than 200% to fund nontoll road projects. Rather, Congress was referring to the “nickels and dimes” left over each year.

The court said that nowhere in legislation did Congress cap the amount that could be raised. Furthermore, Congress mentioned several expensive projects that can be paid for through excess toll revenue, which “shows that legislation did not limit the amount of funds the turnpike commission could collect and spend on nonturnpike projects,” according to court documents.

Regarding the claim that the excessive tolls violate the right to travel, the appellate court found the following:

“Because plaintiffs allege only that the increased tolls have caused and will continue to cause turnpike users to switch to nontoll roads in the future, and not that interstate or intrastate travel has been or will be deterred, they have not stated a claim that their right to travel has been infringed. Therefore, the district court properly dismissed plaintiffs’ right to travel claim.”

After the ruling, OOIDA requested that the court rehear the case en banc, i.e., the full court. As with most appellate cases, a panel of three judges presided over the case. A party can request that the court rehear a case with all available judges for a more complete opinion.

However, that request was denied.

The final option left open is to petition to Supreme Court, as OOIDA did in December.

A denial of the petition effectively ends the lawsuit. If the Supreme Court decides to hear the case, it can affirm the appellate decision, which will end the case. A ruling in favor of OOIDA could send the case back to the lower court for further proceedings. LL

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Tyson Fisher

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.