OOIDA files class action, claiming Indiana tolls violate Commerce Clause

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line associate editor | 1/10/2019

Saying that Indiana’s system of tolls is unconstitutional, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has filed a class action lawsuit against the Indiana Finance Authority, the Indiana Toll Road Concession Co., and several state officials, including Gov. Eric Holcomb.

OOIDA filed the class action complaint on Wednesday, Jan. 9 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

In October, a truck-only toll increase of about 35 percent went into effect in Indiana. Holcomb announced his infrastructure plan, which was dubbed the Next Level Connections program, in September. In order to pay for the program, the IFA amended its agreement with the Indiana Toll Road Concession Co. to allow the company to increase tolls on heavy vehicles by 35 percent.

Tolls for the entire 157-mile trip along Interstate 90 increased, for example, from $44.46 to $60.02 for a Class 5 (five-axle) truck.

“Plaintiffs challenge the constitutionality of the imposition of discriminatory and excessive tolls on named Plaintiffs and on the members of the putative class of motor carriers and truck drivers operating on the toll road who paid the discriminatory and/or excessive tolls at issue here,” the complaint stated.

The lawsuit also claims that the tolls imposed on heavy-duty commercial motor vehicles violates the Commerce Clause and the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the United States Constitution.

“For decades, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution (the Commerce Clause) imposes limitations upon the authority of states to undertake measures that create an undue burden upon, or that discriminate against, interstate commerce.”

According to OOIDA’s complaint, Holcomb’s announcement of the Next Level Connections program would utilize $1 billion paid as consideration for the Indiana Toll Road Concession Co.’s right to extract increased tolls from motor carriers and truck drivers to fund a variety of projects throughout the state. Those state projects included $100 million “to bring high-speed, affordable broadband access to underserved areas,” $90 million for hiking, biking and riding trails, $600 million toward the completion of I-69, $190 million for various highway projects, and $120 million to add more nonstop flights at the Indianapolis airport.

“The $1 billion announced by Gov. Holcomb on Sept. 4, 2018 for inclusion in his Next Level Connections program was earmarked in its entirety for projects not functionally related to the Toll Road,” the complaint stated.

“The Next Level Connections program provides no benefit to the users of the toll road in their capacity as users of the toll road. Prior to raising the tolls applicable to heavy vehicles on Oct. 5, 2018, toll receipts from commercial motor vehicles had been at least sufficient to cover Class 3 and higher commercial motor vehicles’ fair share of the cost of operating and maintaining the toll road.”

OOIDA said that the Next Level Connections program shifts the burden for much of Indiana’s infrastructure costs from the citizens of Indiana to truck drivers who use the toll road.

“Thus, the new tolling scheme discriminates against interstate commerce,” the complaint stated.

OOIDA also contends that Indiana can’t evade its constitutional obligations to users of the toll road by entering into a public-private partnership permitting an entity other than the state to fix and collect the tolls.

In addition to OOIDA, named plaintiffs in the case include Utah-based Chutka Trucking, Ohio-based B.L. Reever Transport, and OOIDA members Mark Elrod and Monte Wiederhold.

Indiana DOT Commissioner Joe McGuinness, Indiana Public Finance Director Dan Huge, and Indiana Finance Authority members Micah G. Vincent, Kelly Mitchell, Owen B. Melton Jr., Harry F. McNaught Jr., and Rudy Yakym III were named as individual defendants in the case.

The plaintiffs seek a permanent injunction that prevents all defendants from continuing the 35-percent truck-only toll increase, as well as a judgment for damages.

“This targets trucks disproportionately to contribute to revenues within the state that have nothing to do the road itself,” OOIDA President Todd Spencer said. “Clearly, this action is completely discriminatory to trucks. They’ve made their intentions clear in that they are looking for out-of-state trucks to provide a disproportionate share of revenues to the state in what we believe is a clear violation of the Commerce Clause.”

Land Line Staff Writer Tyson Fisher contributed to this report.

 

 

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