Supreme Court rejects OOIDA’s petition to hear Pennsylvania toll lawsuit

January 27, 2020

Tyson Fisher

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After a nearly two-year legal battle, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association’s fight against Pennsylvania’s tolls has reached a dead end. The United States Supreme Court has decided not to hear the case.

On Monday, Jan. 27, the U.S. Supreme Court denied OOIDA’s petition to review the Third Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in its lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Turnpike Authority. The lawsuit claims that Pennsylvania’s tolls are excessive and unconstitutional. The high court rarely offers an explanation when denying petitions.

“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,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Lewie Pugh said. “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.”

Along with the National Motorists Association, OOIDA claims the tolls are excessive and burdensome. The petitions asked 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 pointed 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 is found in various federal appeals courts regarding the second question to the Supreme Court.

The petition to the Supreme Court came after the appellate court concluded on Aug. 13 that Congress did in fact allow Pennsylvania to use toll revenue for nonturnpike purposes.

OOIDA argued 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. That “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.”

Before petitioning to the Supreme Court, OOIDA had exercised its right to request a rehearing with the appellate court. However, that request was also denied. Having exhausted all options, the lawsuit is officially over, allowing Pennsylvania to continue with its current practice of tolling.

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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.