Oral arguments were heard in the state’s appeal of the truck toll ruling only
Rhode Island’s attempt to overturn a federal court decision that ended the state’s truck-only toll program is now in the hands of a U.S. Court of Appeals.
On Tuesday, September 12, attorneys for both parties presented oral arguments before a panel of judges in Boston. The panel of 1st U.S. Circuit judges for the hearing included:
The American Trucking Associations’ original lawsuit successfully claimed that Rhode Island’s toll plan violated the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits states from charging with intent to discriminate in favor of local entities and against out-of-state or interstate entities. destinations.
The truck-only toll program was intended to fund the state’s RhodeWorks initiative, which sought to address crumbling bridges in Rhode Island. Since 2018, the 12 truck toll collection sites across the state generated about $100 million before they were required to close.
During the hearing, Ian Gershengorn, the state’s attorney, asserted that the state’s truck-only fees on Class 8 and higher trucks were “facially neutral” because those vehicles caused the bulk of the damage to Rhode Island’s aging bridges.
“The district court misapplied the Commerce Clause and made decisions for itself regarding the state’s elected representatives,” Gershengorn said.
In response, Lipez pointed to a “mathematical analysis” conducted by the district court, which showed “a significant difference between the per-mile cost of these tolls to interstate truckers and local truckers.”
The state has maintained its argument that truck-only tolls do not disproportionately affect out-of-state drivers because the toll is “use-based” and not a “border tax.”
Rickelman pointed to evidence showing that 80% of fees were collected from out-of-state truck drivers. Despite this, Gershengorn asserted that the state’s toll plan was not created with discriminatory intent and that plaintiffs did not present sufficient evidence to prove a discriminatory effect.
“What the state did, if you take a step back, is they chose a toll collection category for this program, which is 80% from out of state,” Rickelman said. “So I guess my question to you is, if the state of Rhode Island had chosen a category that was 99% from out of state to charge for its RhodeWorks program, would you say that wouldn’t be enough to show a discriminatory impact (and) to receive strict scrutiny?
The state argued that because there is a cap on the amount charged daily, the fees apply equally to in-state and out-of-state users. Lipez questioned the validity of this, likening the cap to a “flat tax” paid by any truck driver in the state.
“Once you get to that cap, the cost per mile of usage, there’s going to be a huge difference between local truck drivers going back and forth and back and forth across these bridges,” Lipez said. “Once they hit the cap, they don’t have to pay anymore, so they get a much bigger break on that cap than a truck driver who goes across the state, pays it once and then moves on.”
Attorney Charles Rothfield represents the appellants in the case. He said the state’s arguments set a dangerous precedent when it comes to discrimination against out-of-state commerce.
“I think it’s useful to take a step back and think about the consequences of the arguments that Rhode Island is making, which takes the position that discriminatory intent is irrelevant. Mr. Gershengorn has taken the position that this kind of aggregate discriminatory effect is irrelevant,” Rothfeld said. “If this were true, a state could…order a government agency to come up with an apparently neutral system that would inevitably have the effect of imposing disproportionate burdens on outside the state, benefiting rivals within the state.”
Plaintiffs in the case argued that truck-only tolls could prompt carriers to avoid the state altogether. In response, Lipez stated that there is no evidence to suggest there is an impact on trucks and cargo coming into the state.
“They may not like it. And that, in a gross sense, could increase their costs. But there is nothing to suggest that this will reduce the flow of goods and trucks from one country to another,” Lipez said. “The analysis seems almost very theoretical and mathematical. But there is no evidence that it will have an impact in the real world.
Rothfeld argued that proving such influence is not only unnecessary but also extremely difficult given the subtlety of the state’s discrimination. However, he noted, “it is the hidden effects that over time affect entities engaged in interstate commerce.”
In addition, Lipez questioned whether the determination of which trucks would be tolled was unduly influenced by the interests of local businesses.
“There’s a lot of evidence in this record that the distinction between Classes 8 and 7 had little to do with the difference in physical impact on the structure. There’s a lot of evidence that it was designed to appease local business interests who felt they would be hit hard,” Lipez said. If these fees are applied to the category of trucks they use.”
He also posed a question to Gershengorn: “So, when making a judgment about the reasonableness of the ruling between categories 7 and 8, doesn’t this evidence have some bearing on the credibility of the legislative decision? Isn’t that important for us to take into account?”
Gershengorn responded that trying to maximize in-state business to help local residents is something state legislatures do every day, noting that “taking local concerns into account is the core of what legislatures do.” Furthermore, he added, there was no evidence to support the claim that the state sought to benefit in-state truck drivers at the expense of out-of-state carriers.
he was there Overwhelming support of the trucking industry – along with the business community – for the court to affirm the previous decision.
In May, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a brief opposing the state’s case. Shortly after, in June, a cooperative amicus curiae brief was filed by the American Highway Users Alliance, the Intermodal Association of North America, the National Truck Stop Operators Association, the Truckload Carriers Association, the Truck Leasing and Leasing Association, and the Transportation Associations By truck from every state except Delaware and Delaware. Kansas.
There has also been support for the state’s case, with the International Bridge, Tunnel and Highway Association filing a brief in March asking the court to overturn the earlier decision, arguing that its application of the Commerce Clause was unfair.
The parties will now wait for the court to make its decision. There is no timeline for a ruling, but it will likely take months before a decision is made.
Gershengorn and Rothfeld did not respond to Land Line’s request for comment. LL