by René Tankersley
A Louisiana judge has revoked the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development’s (LaDOTD) authority to demand on-the-spot payments for weight and scale violations. Judge Curtis Calloway of the 19th District Court, State of Louisiana, Parish of East Baton Rouge, declared the old and new versions of the law (LSA-R.S. 32:389) unconstitutional.
The January ruling is the result of an incident that occurred in March 2000. Illinois trucker Gary Ring was stopped near the Louisiana-Texas border, ticketed by a LaDOTD Weights & Standards officer for running the weigh scale and was forced to pay a $2,000 fine on the spot or have his trailer and tractor seized. There was no court date set for Ring to protest the violation or give his side of the event. (It was later determined, after the suit was filed, Ring was not guilty.)
Ring refused to give up his rights to due process. After many unsuccessful calls to state agencies, Ring sued LaDOTD in March 2001, for violating his constitutional rights by demanding “on-the-spot” payment of fines, without a later hearing. Ring was represented by Robert G. Creely, Nicole Loup Hackett and Madro Bandaries.
The lawsuit was filed as a class action on behalf of Ring and all other truckers similarly affected. On Dec. 8, 2001, Judge Calloway ruled that LSA-R.S. 32:389 was unconstitutional, and the law could not be enforced.
Between the original filing date and the December hearing, LaDOTD apparently encouraged the Louisiana Legislature to amend the law in an attempt to make it meet constitutional requirements. Therefore, attorneys for LaDOTD alleged the “new” 32:389, which went into effect Aug. 15, 2001, was constitutional, and Judge Calloway’s ruling of Dec. 8 was only applicable to the old law.
After argument, Friday, Jan. 25, 2002, Judge Calloway also declared the “new” 32:389 unconstitutional. Therefore, as of this date, LaDOTD no longer has authority to demand on-the-spot payment for any violations it may issue.
Both the Louisiana State Police and the Louisiana Public Service Commission also issue violations to truckers, but they are not affected by this ruling as they have a valid process in place to provide hearings.
What does this mean to truckers?
Attorneys for LaDOTD have advised they will tell their employees they can no longer demand on-the-spot payment, subject to the seizure of the truckers’ trailer and tractor. This does not mean they can’t cite you with a violation and some time in the future give you a hearing on it. Naturally, such a hearing must meet constitutional requirements.
The immediate effect is LaDOTD can no longer demand on-the-spot payment of violations. However, if a trucker wishes to voluntarily pay the violation, he/she may do so, Bandaries said.
“It is my opinion, if a trucker wishes to protest a violation after today’s date, he should inform the individual from DOTD, who presents him with the violation, that he is protesting it,” said Madro Bandaries, an attorney for Ring. “Then, send to my attention a clear copy of the violation, including both sides, as well as your address and phone numbers.”
Bandaries added, “If a DOTD officer demands on-the-spot payment of a citation after today’s date, please inform me immediately so I can take the appropriate steps, which include taking the matter before the court.”
Bandaries has set up a toll-free number at 1-866-655-8236 for calls related to this case. Send copies of violations to Madro Bandaries, Amato & Creely, 901 Derbigny, Gretna, LA 70054-0441, or fax them to (504) 362-5168.
“We all owe a great debt to Gary Ring,” Bandaries said. “Out of thousands of truckers, he was the only one who stood up for the rights guaranteed to all Americans by the Constitution. In addition, if it was not for OOIDA and Land Line to keep us connected, and in touch, we could not prevail.”