By Jim Johnston
From the beginning, OOIDA’s legal strategy has been to watchdog not only motor carriers, but also government – and not just the federal government.
State governments across the country drew the attention of OOIDA’s legal team through the 1980s and into the 1990s. This led to a series of court actions related to special trucking taxes often referred to as “bingo stamps,” “cab cards,” “fuel stickers” and “decal fees.”
Our work on behalf of truckers changed tax laws in many states. The state tax cases not only brought refunds, but brought to an end the upsurge of discriminatory taxes and fees, including regulatory fees.
By filing lawsuits and intervening in others, OOIDA was able to help get back – from 17 states – well over $100 million in refunds for the industry. A substantial portion of this went back to owner-operators.
In 1990, OOIDA went to court against government again. Corrupt public officials in Tennessee were using state employees and agencies for political gain and discriminating against truckers in the process.
The Tennessee Public Service Commission case was most satisfying, probably because the officials’ conduct was so outrageous.
By that, I mean everything from PSC truck enforcement officers shaking down out-of-state truckers to state employees being given undesirable assignments when they ticketed truckers who worked for companies that made campaign contributions to the “right” politicians.
Now, years later, I still get madder than hell as I recall one incident when a husband and wife team was put through a so-called inspection.
During the incident the wife – who had been taking her break in the bunk and was sick with the flu – was forced to stand on the roadside in the rain for an extended period of time because officers wanted to conduct a warrantless search. That search ultimately turned up nothing.
The result of OOIDA’s legal action was that the PSC was stripped of its authority to enforce trucking regulations. In 1994, a federal court ruled that PSC Commissioner Keith Bissell’s campaign fundraising tactics violated truckers’ rights. But it didn’t stop there. A year later, the Tennessee PSC was abolished.
As we wind up 2010 with this Minnesota case, an important thing for you, as an OOIDA member, to understand is why we pursue these legal actions.
These cases are not just about enforcement. They are about legal interpretation and precedent and how truckers are going to be treated in the future. It’s about building a foundation in the law, and we do it because nobody else will. LL