An appellate court panel has demanded that the New Jersey Turnpike Authority provide evidence that it needs to charge a $50 violation fee for every missed toll.

The fee is at the heart of a proposed class-action lawsuit against the Authority over its E-ZPass fines.

State law prohibits the authority from profiting off violation fees. The fine is supposed to make up the cost of the missed toll as well as the effort in sending out the notices.

The lawsuit claims the existing fine is excessive and unreasonable.

Matthew Faranda Diedrich, an attorney with the Philadelphia firm Royer Cooper Cohen Braunfeld, has been leading the charge against the E-ZPass fee.

“For years we’ve been saying that the fee itself is not a fee really — it’s an invalid fine, and it’s unauthorized and it’s an unconstitutional tax on innocent motorists.”

In 2011 the Turnpike Authority raised the fee for E-ZPass violation from $25 to $50.

“It’s clearly just a money-making endeavor by the Turnpike, and indirectly by the state," Diedrich said. "We believe that when the evidence actually comes out, it’ll show that it is an exorbitant fine that bears no relation to the actual cost of processing and collecting the tolls.”

The lawsuit had been put on hold earlier this year so that the state's courts could determine whether the fine is legal. A hearing has been scheduled for late October to review the evidence the Court has requested.

Diedrich says the ruling is a positive development “because these individuals who have been hit with this fine are the people who use the toll roads in New Jersey for their livelihood and as an essential part of their daily lives.”

He stressed many drivers who have been told they have to pay these $50 fees are getting fleeced.

“They expect to pay tolls to use the roads but what they don’t expect is to pay an exorbitant fee that bears no relation to the actual cost of processing and collecting tolls.”

He pointed out the $50 fee is charged for all sorts of reasons where drivers have done nothing wrong, including “malfunctioning transponders, forgetting to link a new credit card to a new vehicle for an E-ZPass account, or simply system error which happens as well, outside of the users control.”

The federal lawsuit says that if the cost of the Turnpike Authority's violation-processing contract was divided by the number of violations they collected in a year, the amount of the fine should be $18.37. If the cost were to be divided by all 10 million annual violations, including those who never pay, the fine would be $3.41.

The Authority, on the other hand, has argued that they should be able to charge up to $91 if they were to take all the costs of processing the violations into account.

Diedrich said it is not known when the court will render a decision.

He said that any E-ZPass customer who got a New Jersey violation notice who wants to join the federal class action suit, if and when it re-starts, can contact his firm's intake specialist, Megan Ruth, by calling 484-363-2620, or by emailing her at mruth@rccblaw.com

A spokesman for the Turnpike Authority declined to comment on the case because it is still pending in court.

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