Cumberland Farms' Suit Against Rhode Island's Truck Toll Program Moves Closer to Federal Court

A truck on a highway

BOSTON — The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld a lawsuit challenging Rhode Island's truck-only toll program, ruling the suit can proceed in federal court.

The lawsuit was brought by Westborough-based Cumberland Farms, the American Trucking Associations (ATA), M&M Transport Services Inc. and New England Motor Freight in the summer of 2018. In the suit filed in Providence, R.I., the plaintiffs argue that Rhode Island’s new toll system violates the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution by discriminating against out-of-state trucking companies.

The toll plan launched in June 2018.

However, in March 2019, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the court lacks jurisdiction and the case should be brought in the state court system, as Convenience Store News previously reported.

On Dec. 5, the First Circuit ruled today that despite the Rhode Island's assertion, the lawsuit was not barred by the federal Tax Injunction Act, which generally prohibits federal courts from hearing challenges to state taxes, according to ATA.

"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," said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. "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."

The court, which is located in Boston, held that the RhodeWorks tolls are not a "tax," and was not immune from challenge in federal court," the Arlington, Va.-based association said.

"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," said Rhode Island Trucking Association President Chris Maxwell. "With this ruling in hand, we are confident we will prevail in this suit once it is decided on the merits."

Connecticut lawmakers have been considering a similar truck-only toll; however, the recent appeals court's ruling could out a stop to the proposal, the Hartford Courant reported.