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10/14/2008
Florida Appeals Court Reinstates Toll Road Bills
Florida appeals court reinstates toll road fines, finding due process rights of government agencies outweigh those of motorists.

Judge C. Alan Lawson
Thousands of Florida motorists will be liable once again for toll road offenses that they did not necessarily commit. In a unanimous decision Friday, a three-judge panel of the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal quashed in part a circuit court ruling that had invalidated all toll violation ticket issued to motorists in Seminole and Brevard counties as long as they held a valid toll transponder account (view circuit ruling).

In April, Circuit Judge John Galluzzo found the actions of toll road officials outrageous in the case of firefighter Christopher M. Baird. In March 2007, an automated ticketing machine began to mailing citations to Baird after the E-PASS toll transponder in his wife's SUV failed. Although Baird had kept his address properly updated with the Department of Motor Vehicles, officials mailed a stack of sixteen tickets to the wrong location. Baird first learned of the problem while trying to renew his car registration. Despite the lack of proper notice, he was given no chance to be heard on the matter. Instead, Baird was forced to pay $1448 in fines to renew his vehicle registration and was hit with 48 points against his driving license, resulting in an immediate suspension.

The appeals court ruling agreed with the circuit court that Baird should not have been punished.

"The circuit opinion concluded that because of the admitted error of the (Orlando-Orange County Expressway) Authority through its agent, (the Florida Department of Transportation), Baird was not afforded his right of due process to contest the citations," Appeals Court Judge C. Alan Lawson. "The circuit court correctly found no legal ground justifying the county court's refusal to recognize DOT's confession of error, and reversed the county court's denial of the stipulated motions."

The Florida Department of Transportation and Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority filed the appeal insisting that their due process rights were violated by the circuit court opinion's extension of the principle to every motorist within the circuit court's jurisdiction. The appeals court agreed.

"The basic requirements of procedural due process are notice and an opportunity to be heard," Lawson wrote. "DOT and the Authority were denied both when the circuit court addressed issues affecting them that had never been raised in the proceedings below and ordered injunctive and other relief against them with no prior notice."

As a result of Friday's ruling, all "toll cheating" tickets issued against motorists in Seminole and Brevard counties are reinstated, regardless of whether the motorists have valid toll transponder accounts. The Authority and DOT can also levy the steep fines and other penalties against motorists when the Authority's own equipment caused the error and regardless of whether the driver received proper notice.

A copy of the appeals ruling is available in a 20k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Florida Department of Transportation v. Baird (Florida District Court of Appeal for the Fifth District, 10/10/2008)



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