Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, OOIDA spar in court filings over emergency injunction

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | Friday, April 13, 2018

One week after the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association asked the court to immediately stop the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission from transferring any money for purposes not related to the turnpike while its case is pending, the Turnpike Commission filed opposition to that motion. The commission questions the timing of OOIDA’s lawsuit and request for preliminary injunction.

In its opposition filed on April 9, PTC claims the filing of the March 15 lawsuit “was completely of (OOIDA’s) choosing” and then questions the 18-day delay to file its motion for preliminary injunction on April 2. Five days later, OOIDA requested that the motion be expedited.

The Turnkpike Commission claims that the lawsuit was filed in an “unexplained delay” as the tolls have been in place for several years. The commission questions the “emergency” status of the motion in what the commission calls a creation of OOIDA.

Furthermore, the commission argues that the original motion for preliminary injunction “is substantively weak and does not have a likelihood of success.”

OOIDA’s motion requests that PTC be prohibited from:

  • Transferring to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation any further sums derived from Pennsylvania Turnpike toll revenue to satisfy the commission’s obligations under Act 44/89 or for any other purpose except operating, maintaining, or improving the Turnpike;
  • Using any sums derived from such toll revenue to pay the cost of debt service for any bonds issued by Turnpike Commission for any purpose other than operating, maintaining, or improving the Turnpike; and
  • Issuing or causing to be issued additional bonds or other debt obligations for the purpose of making further payments to PennDOT pursuant to Act 44/89.

OOIDA requests that the motion be granted before April 30, the same date the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is required to make Act 44/89 transfer payments to PennDOT. Interest payments on bonds previously issued are due June 1. OOIDA claims that by allowing the Turnpike Commission to make those payments, plaintiffs will endure further irreparable harm.

However, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission argues that considering these payments have been going on for more than a decade there is no reason to expedite the motion to prevent another payment.

“Plaintiffs fail to explain why stopping the April 30 payment justifies expedited consideration, given (1) the long history of payments that have already occurred and (2) the repeated, express public disclosure of the same injury that now attempt to elevate to an ‘emergency,’” the commission states in its opposition to the motion.

Two days after the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission filed its opposition, OOIDA filed its reply. OOIDA argues the court should expedite motion since plaintiffs will suffer significant prejudice if funds are transferred and because the commission has not proven it will suffer prejudice if the expedited hearing is granted.

“If the court intervenes and preserves the status quo, that money will be sequestered and available for proper disposition at the conclusion of this litigation,” OOIDA argues. “That is what a preliminary injunction is for: avoiding irreparable harm to the plaintiffs while protecting the long-term interests of opposing parties.”

Regarding the timely manner of the complaint, OOIDA says the Turnpike Commission would never be satisfied by the timing of the suit. OOIDA points out that commission payments are due quarterly, therefore, a payment will always be due shortly regardless of the timing. Additionally, OOIDA says the lawsuit “is timely enough to relieve significant harm to Turnpike users over the next 40 years.”

“Plaintiff, truck drivers, ordinary motorists, and their representative organizations do not read treatises on the Dormant Commerce Clause cases in their spare time. They did not arrive on counsel’s doorstep with a pre-packaged cause of action tied with a bow and pre-addressed to this Court,” OOIDA’s reply states. “The legal, factual, and jurisdictional issues underlying this case are complex. The reasonable investigation required of any plaintiff’s counsel involved considerable time and effort to research, analyze, and present this case to the Court in a cognizable fashion. Plaintiffs did so as soon as was practicable.”

In the lawsuit filed on March 15, OOIDA and the National the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. OOIDA claims that tolls, or “user fees,” become an undue burden on commerce once the amount is greater than a fair approximation of the value of the use of the facility.

The lawsuit also claims that Turnpike Commission toll rates are used to pay for state projects that have nothing to do with the turnpike, including operations, maintenance or improvements. OOIDA is evoking the commerce clause in its case.

Four trucking companies and two Pennsylvania residents who drive a private vehicle also are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

In regard to the excessive costs, OOIDA points out that since 2011 revenues generated by Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission tolls have totaled to more than 200 percent of the operation and maintenance costs of the Pennsylvania Turnpike System. With toll revenues twice as much as needed, OOIDA argues that the tolls are being used as a revenue-generating machine for PennDOT to use for unrelated projects.

“Truckers and motorists are not ATMs to fund everything under the sun,” said Todd Spencer, acting president of OOIDA. “The ongoing, economic drain on unsuspecting turnpike users is the epitome of highway robbery.”

 

 

Copyright © OOIDA

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