What’s the latest on lawsuit against E-ZPass fee ‘scam’ in NJ?
One thing that hasn't changed during the pandemic is the controversial $50 penalty that E-ZPass continues to levy against drivers on New Jersey Turnpike Authority roads.
With a federal class-action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the violation still on hold, New Jersey motorists are continuing to receive the steep fines for allegedly going through toll booths without being part of the program, not having the needed transponders, or not paying their E-ZPass bills.
New Jersey law is clear: fines for violations cannot cost any more than the cost it takes for the agency to collect an unpaid toll.
What's not clear, however, is how much that legwork costs.
In New Brunswick, a Superior Court judge appointed by the Appellate Division has been working for more than a year to gather information that will determine what the actual cost is for the Authority to issue a violation notice.
Matthew Faranda-Diedrich, a partner at Royer Cooper Cohen Braunfeld, the Philadelphia law firm heading up the class-action suit, said the $50 fine, which was suddenly doubled nine years ago, also violates the 8th Amendment against excessive fines.
The Turnpike Authority continues to insist the violation process, which involves getting a driver’s name and address from the Motor Vehicle Commission, costs more than $50 per violation.
But Faranda-Diedrich said that claim is belied by what we've seen during the pandemic, when the Turnpike Authority removed cash tolls and charged drivers who did not have E-ZPass using a toll-by-plate system. That’s a procedure where the Turnpike Authority takes a photo of a license plate going through a toll, then contacts the Motor Vehicle Commission to get a driver’s name and address so the driver can be sent a bill for the toll.
Faranda-Diedrich said that no additional fee was charged when the toll-by-plate system was in effect.
“And yet for these so-called violation notices, doing the exact same thing — pulling the license plate, matching it up to DMV records and mailing an invoice — suddenly it costs $50," he said.
“If they can do all those things in the case of toll-by-plate and not charge $50 or maybe just a couple of dollars, whatever the charge ends up being, it would suggest that’s the actual cost of collecting a toll," he said.
Faranda-Diedrich said once the information is collected and reviewed by the judge in Middlesex County, there will be an evidentiary hearing and the judge will decide whether the $50 charge is warranted.
The case will then go back to an appellate panel that will rule “as to whether or not the regulation that authorizes the $50 charge should be declared illegal and thrown out or not," he explained.
He said because the pandemic has slowed the process, it’s difficult to say when the case will move forward.
“This is a case that needs to be tried in person with several expert witnesses, factual witnesses. It really needs to be tried in the courtroom, not over Zoom,” he said.
He understands that people may be frustrated by the delay but it’s important to keep in mind, he said, that “justice is not often swift but it is meaningful."
"We are putting our head down and doing everything we can to hopefully bring justice to the millions of motorists that we feel like have been unfairly taken advantage of,” he said.
Motorists who want to put their names on the list to join the class-action lawsuit can contact intake specialist Randi Fair at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215-839-1000.
A spokesman for the Turnpike Authority declined to comment on the case.
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You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com