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Appeals Court: Challenge to RhodeWorks Can Proceed

A lawsuit challenging Rhode Island’s truck-only tolls can proceed in federal court.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled Dec. 5 that the lawsuit, by the American Trucking Associations and other groups, was not barred by the federal Tax Injunction Act, ATA said. The act generally prohibits federal courts from hearing challenges to state taxes. The First Circuit held that the tolls, called “RhodeWorks” tolls, are not a “tax,” and thus not immune from challenge in federal court. ATA, along with Cumberland Farms Inc., M&M Transport Services Inc. and New England Motor Freight, had sued Rhode Island, arguing that the RhodeWorks plan violates the Constitution’s Commerce Clause by discriminating against out-of-state economic interests in order to favor in-state interests, and by designing the tolls in a way that does not fairly approximate motorists’ use of the roads.

“We have long believed that Rhode Island’s RhodeWorks truck-only toll scheme was a violation of the Constitution and an attempt to use our industry as a piggy bank,” ATA President and CEO Chris Spear said in a Dec. 5 statement. “Today’s decision by the First Circuit paves the way for us to make that argument in federal court and we look forward to the chance to vindicate our case on the merits.” ATA, Arlington, Va., a national trade association, comprises a federation of 50 affiliated state trucking associations and industry-related conferences and councils.

“Today’s ruling is just another step in getting these extortionary tolls torn down and we would urge the governor and her allies to do the right thing and put an end to this unfair and unconstitutional toll scheme so we can get serious about working together on how to equitably and effectively rebuild our infrastructure,” Rhode Island Trucking Association President Chris Maxwell said. “With this ruling in hand, we are confident we will prevail in this suit once it is decided on the merits.”

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