9/7/2016Virginia Judge Overturns Bogus Toll Road Fine
Fairfax County, Virginia court slams Dulles Toll Road for insisting E-ZPass user must pay $8334 over $26 in tolls that failed to register.
A Virginia judge told an innocent motorist that she did not have to pay $8334 after a toll road operator falsely accused her of being a scofflaw. Abimbola Olumbunmi Laniyan's "bureaucratic nightmare" began on May 11, 2015 when she drove along the Dulles Toll Road, just outside Washington, DC. The Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority (MWAA) accused her of skipping out on the $2.50 payment -- except on the day in question, Laniyan had a valid E-ZPass account with a $173 balance.
When Laniyan received the unpaid toll notice, along with 13 other notices covering a total of $26 in tolls, she did what the letter said she should do to dispute the allegation. She spent hours making phone calls, filling out forms and writing letters, to no avail. She even obtained a new E-ZPass transponder. All that she received in return was a rejection notice for her effort to clear her good name.
"This is to inform you that your appeal to the above referenced license plate number has been rejected because the E-ZPass account number provided is not in good standing," the tolling authorities wrote in a June 5, 2015 letter to Laniyan.
Except her account was in good standing. The problem was that Laniyan's account was registered in New York, and the Virginia office did not know how to handle an out-of-state account. So when the letter said she did not have a valid E-ZPass account, it meant that she did not have a Virginia E-ZPass account.
"I understand that there can be some confusion, but when the court says well, that's some of our fault, I just don't see that as our fault," Caleb Kershner, MWAA's attorney, testified.
Judge Randy I. Bellows did not buy the attempt to pass off responsibility and impose a $8334 fine on Laniyan. He called the tolling authority's assertion "absolutely inaccurate."
"If the MWAA, or its contractor, does not have the ability to know whether an account is in good standing in some other state, it cannot state categorically to a customer that its E-ZPass account is not in good standing, especially when the customer has already provided the violation processing center information that the E-ZPass transponder was not issued by E-ZPass Virginia.," Judge Bellows wrote. "Furthermore, the court rejects Mr. Kershner's suggestion that it is Ms. Laniyan's own fault if she found the processing center's communication to be ambiguous."
Judge Bellows found that since state law requires fair notice of toll violations to be sent, the confusing notices sent to Laniyan did not meet the legal requirement.
"For any patron of the toll road, fair notice required that the owner of the vehicle be given accurate information as to the basis for rejecting a disputed claim so that the owner of the vehicle could either remedy the deficiency or pay the amount at issue," Judge Bellows ruled. "Again, this was not done here."
All fourteen counts of failure to pay a toll were dismissed. As of July 2016, Virginia law caps the amount a motorist can be fined for an alleged toll violation at $2200 for a first offense, regardless of the amount of tolls in dispute.
A copy of the ruling is available in a 1.6mb PDF file at the source link below.