Trucker Lawsuit Allowed to Sue NY State Thruway
A lawsuit brought by the American Trucking Associations (ATA), three trucking companies and other individual truckers against the New York State Thruway for illegally high tolls, was reinstated by a federal appeals courts after having been previously dismissed by a federal court judge because New York State wasn’t named as a party an should have been. The judge also said that the 11th amendment prevents states from suing states, rendering the suit null and void of claim.
The ATA and its partners in the suit originally brought the claim in November of 2013, asserting that in the past 20 years over $1 billion dollars of toll revenue has been diverted by the NYTA into the canal system. The group declared the rates are “excessive in relation to the benefits” that it receives and sought compensation for 4 trucking companies based in New York, other ATA members and affected parties. The trucking companies involved in the suit are Wadhams Enterprises of Phelps, NY, Lightning Express Delivery Service of Modena, NY, and Ward Transport & Logistics Corp., of Newburgh and Tonawanda, NY.
A lawyer representing the trucking companies, Richard Katskee, said he hopes to halt excess tolls and issue refunds as far back as November 2010. “Anyone who drives a car or truck knows our roads are crumbling,” Katskee said. “Toll money should be used to fix roads.” The suit also asked for a more reasonable toll rate to lessen the burden on interstate commerce.
The suit claims that the New York State Thruway Authority charges excessive tolls on the 570 miles of thruway, thereby violating the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause. The higher tolls take money out of the drivers pockets, reducing their personal income. The suit states that about 12% of all tolls collected, about $100 million a year, goes to the New York State Canal System, which the New York State Constitution declares the state must support via the Thruway Authority, instead of being used for repairs and improvements on the actual Thruway. The suit sees this as a misuse of toll revenue.
One of the judges, Dennis Jacobs noted that the Erie Canal and others canals have “faded into obsolescence” and are mainly use for only recreational purposes now. All three judges ruled that the Thruway Authority is a self-funded public entity, not controlled by the state, and therefore not covered by the state’s immunity. “Now that the Canal System is operated by the Canal Corporation as a subsidiary of the Thruway Authority, the considerable cost of maintaining (and sometimes upgrading, developing, and expanding) the Canal System is funded almost entirely through the collection of highway tolls,” the court decision read. “When the Canal System needs more funding, the Thruway Authority raises tolls.” The statement added, “We conclude that the [previous] ruling was an abuse of discretion, and therefore vacate the judgment.” In other words, the claim should have never been dismissed.
If the Thruway loses the case, they will be forced to find a new source of income to fund operations of the canal. In response to attorney representing the Thruway, Eric Schneiderman, Judge Jacobs commented, “Whatever interest New York has in the outcome of this lawsuit,” Jacobs wrote, “we are confident that Mr. Schneiderman will keep it in mind.”