1/18/2017Texas: Lawsuit Battles Toll Road Over Bankruptcy Law Violation
Federal lawsuit accuses North Texas Tollway Authority of illegally attempting to collect on debt discharged in bankruptcy proceedings.
A judge may soon decide whether the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) has gone overboard in its attempts to collect on unpaid tolls. A new federal lawsuit charges the agency with refusal to abide by the protections provided under federal bankruptcy law as it went after a couple from the city of Allen.
"The NTTA's complete and utter disrespect for the Bankruptcy Code... reflects the intolerable hubris of this quasi-governmental entity in its dealings with individual consumers," attorney Theodore O. Bartholow III wrote in the complaint against the NTTA.
Back in December 2013, Janice Wood and Jeff Margheim sought a "fresh start" after suffering heavy financial losses. They filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, and among their debts was $26,062 claimed by the NTTA, which did not participate in the bankruptcy proceedings. Six months later, a court discharged most of the couple's debts under Chapter 7, which wiped out everything owed to the NTTA, save for the amount considered a "fine."
Despite this, the NTTA never stopped sending harassing letters demanding immediate payment. The agency even moved to have Wood thrown in jail.
"The vast majority of the debt the NTTA sought to collect from plaintiffs post-petition was not subject to 11 US Code Section 523's exception," Bartholow wrote. "As such, plaintiffs were extremely surprised, confused, and distraught by the notice of the pending arrest warrant. Further, plaintiff Janice Wood experienced anxiety as a direct result of the issuance of the arrest warrant that was so severe that she was afraid to leave her home for fear of arrest and impoundment of their vehicle."
After the court learned of the bankruptcy discharge, the arrest warrant was withdrawn. The NTTA now demanded payment of $1858, though itrefused to drop the criminal charges against Wood. After a back and forth between the parties, the NTTA decided to block the registration of the couple's only vehicle and ban them from use of any road or bridge under the NTTA's jurisdiction.
"The NTTA's behavior towards the plaintiffs in this case is reflective of the NTTA's pattern and practice to ignore the mandates of the bankruptcy code and rules and its outright refusal to actively participate in, or even acknowledge, its customers' bankruptcies," Bartholow wrote.
The lawsuit seeks legal fees and compensation from NTTA. Bartholow has represented three other NTTA customers who have faced identical collection efforts from the NTTA after declaring bankruptcy. Magistrate Judge Christine A. Nowak has set a conference on the lawsuit for next month.