By on February 22, 2011

A group of motorists earlier this month filed a federal class action lawsuit against Florida’s toll road system for detaining motorists who attempt to pay the tolls with cash. About 600 miles worth of toll roads and bridges are under the jurisdiction of The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), which hands operational duties over to the private firm Faneuil, Inc., which is responsible for the toll collectors. The complaint charges both firms with false imprisonment and other civil rights violations.

“For approximately four years, FDOT and Faneuil have engaged in a practice of detaining motorists and their passengers on the Turnpike System until such motorists provided certain personal information in exchange for their release,” attorney James C. Valenti wrote on behalf of the plaintiffs. “The motorists and passengers have been detained without their consent and without legal justification.”

Under FDOT policies, motorists who pay with $50 bills, and sometimes even $5 bills, are not given permission to proceed until the toll collector fills out a “Bill Detection Report” with data about the motorist’s vehicle and details from his driver’s license. Those unwilling to provide personal information to the toll collector are offered no alternative because the toll collector will not open the barrier, preventing the car from moving forward. FDOT policy does not allow passengers to exit their vehicle, and backing up is illegal and usually impossible while other cars wait behind. Some of those paying in cash object to the idea of carrying the SunPass toll transponder on privacy grounds, but the use of cash is discouraged because it increases operating costs.

“The policy of detaining motorists without their consent and without legal justification extended throughout the Turnpike System and was so permanent and well settled that it constituted custom, practice or policy which has the force of law and rises to the level of deliberate indifference to plaintiff’s and class members’ constitutional rights,” Valenti wrote. “It is believed that Defendants will continue the widespread practice of unlawful detentions and will continue to force vehicle occupants to provide personal information in exchange for their release, all in violation of plaintiffs’ and class plaintiffs’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.”

An estimated 262,800 drivers have been detained since October 2006. The lawsuit seeks an injunction prohibiting Faneuil and FDOT from further detaining motorists. Neither FDOT nor Faneuil has answered the February 8 complaint.

[Courtesy: Thenewspaper.com]

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32 Comments on “Florida Toll Road Sued for Holding Motorists Hostage...”


  • avatar
    tced2

    “This note is legal tender for all debts public and private”
    It’s printed on every bill.  Collection of other data is another matter. I guess everyone with a $50 bill is a suspect for some crime. They’d better suspect all the banks, they have lots of $50 bills in their vaults. Being a suspect for using a $5 bill? They’d better get ready for lots of “suspects”. Handing over a $5 bill for a $2 or $3 toll is hardly suspicious.
    re:blocking the toll booth lane. Good for them. If they aren’t given any reasonable alternative then block the lane. The toll operator created the problem; let them solve it.

    • 0 avatar
      nonce

      I’m gonna pay with a pile of $2 bills. Take that, terrorists!

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      This note is legal tender for all debts public and private
       
      It is not a debt until you have received a service for which you have not paid.  A retail outlet is free to refuse cash because you don’t have the product until after you pay.
      If the toll road is collecting money for the section of road you previously drove on, it’s probably a debt.  If they collect money as you enter the non-free section of road then it’s not a debt and they can refuse to accept cash.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    I’ve always wondered about this kind of policy and similar policies on some toll roads (e.g. the toll road that connects with Houston’s George H.W. Bush Intercontinental Airport) that have “no cash” policies.
    The reason is “legal tender” laws.If you look at some of the fine print on your currency bills, you will see the words “This note is legal tender for all debts public and private.”  I believe what that means is that if you owe someone some money in the United States and you offer to pay them in bills, they have to accept those bills as payment.  So, if you tender the money and they don’t accept it, you have fulfilled your legal obligation to tender payment of the debt to the creditor.  The creditor’s refusal to accept that tender is their problem.
    The point of such laws is to establish a single, national currency, that is good anywhere.
    If this company doesn’t like dealing with cash, then they should give people a discount for using the transponders . . . but still accept cash.

    • 0 avatar
      tced2

      re:”no cash”.  Giving them the benefit of the doubt – it’s simply more efficient to collect tolls electronically.  Efficient from the cost of collecting the money and more efficient traffic flow.

    • 0 avatar
      darkwing

      http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/faqs/Currency/Pages/legal-tender.aspx:
      “There is, however, no Federal statute mandating that a private business, a person or an organization must accept currency or coins as for payment for goods and/or services. Private businesses are free to develop their own policies on whether or not to accept cash unless there is a State law which says otherwise.”

    • 0 avatar
      Highway27

      The Intercounty Connector, a toll road opening tomorrow north of DC, is using all electronic toll collection.  There are no toll booths on the entire length.  The preferred method of payment is EZ-Pass (transponder).  For those who don’t have one, they video your vehicle through the toll gantries, and bill you by mail later, with a 3 dollar surcharge for video billing, which is in line with what the owner charges at other facilities for using EZ-Pass lanes without having a transponder.

      I don’t know if they’d accept cash for the mailed bills, but there won’t be the opportunity to not have your information taken by the road.

    • 0 avatar
      nonce

      I can refuse to accept cash, but not for an existing debt. Once the debt exists, either you accept cash or void the debt.
       

    • 0 avatar
      darkwing

      Nope, that’s not true in the US. (But it is in Australia.)

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    Because I watched Miami Vice in the 80s I can understand why the DEA wants to track money in Florida but I’m surprised this was even considered since it’s such a violation of privacy.  But then a private company can argue they may do anything they please, just like the road-holding company that’s buying Red Flex will probably pepper their toll routes with speed cameras as soon as they can.

  • avatar
    jimbowski

    Interesting.  I would allow toll booth willy to use one of those pens to check for fake bills, and I suppose he could have my license plate number, but that is all he would get from me for paying a toll.  They have to accept bills because they are still legal tender.  It’s not the driver’s problem if it ‘increases operating costs’.

  • avatar

    It is incorrect to say they must accept it.  Doesn’t matter if it is legal tender presented by Tim Geithner himself.  There is no law against setting standards for the types of payment you accept.
     
    That said, this policy better be enforced 100% uniformly across the board or the suit does have merit.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      So if you try to pay your bill in my Denver restaurant with anything other than Bolivian pesos, I can lock the door in front of you until you hand over your driver’s licence?

    • 0 avatar

      There is an inherent right for the government to take steps to collect information and temporarily detain you without being subject to violation of the fourth amendment.
       
      Could you do that? No.
      Can they?  In many cases, yes (Terry v Ohio).

  • avatar
    william442

    The Leroy Selmon no longer accepts cash. If you do not have Sun Pass, you get a bill. Seems to work fine.

  • avatar
    tikki50

    Let me get this straight, so after I busted my butt to get out of any credit cards, debit cards, and all plastic forms of money and go cash only, I now must have some other card to show because they dont want cash? I just got out of plastic money due to the banks, I DO NOT WANT A SUN PASS or any other pass for that matter, cash only here!

    • 0 avatar
      cdnsfan27

      Then don’t take the toll road. There are alternatives. The SunPass is designed to smoothly and efficiently move a large number of vehicles through the toll plazas during rush hour, and it works. By insisting in paying in cash you are gumming up the works for the rest of us. You sir are being selfish in insisting on your individual rights while neglecting your responsibilities to your fellow commuters. When you go through the toll plaza you probably also hog the left lane at 55 don’t ya?

  • avatar
    Shane Rimmer

    There is a difference between trying to pay for something versus settling a debt. From Wikipedia:

     
    “In some jurisdictions legal tender can be refused as payment if no debt exists prior to the time of payment (where the obligation to pay may arise at the same time as the offer of payment). For example vending machines and transport staff do not have to accept the largest denomination of banknote. Shopkeepers can reject large banknotes — this is covered by the legal concept known as invitation to treat. However, restaurants that do not collect payment until after a meal is served would have to accept that legal tender for the debt incurred in purchasing the meal.
    The right, in many jurisdictions, of a trader to refuse to do business with any person means a purchaser cannot demand to make a purchase, and so declaring a legal tender in law, as anything other than an offered payment for debts already incurred, would not be effective.”
     
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_tender

  • avatar

    What about all the tourists?  They won’t have a SunPass.  Unbelieveable.
    John

    • 0 avatar
      Bill Wade

      I was thinking the same thing.

    • 0 avatar
      stevelovescars

      I agree about the SunPass item, I have a Fastrac transponder for use around the S.F. Bay Area but an amazing number of locals don’t have them.  This area gets a lot of tourists who have no choice but to use cash… but there are lanes for them.

      In this Florida situation, it doesn’t seem that they don’t take cash, they have lanes to take them, it’s that they hold these people up to collect personal information that they really don’t need. 

      If this is a question of cost savings, don’t they think that getting cars through the toll-booths more quickly would make a bigger improvement in their bottom line than the occassional risk of getting a bad bill?  Since most people use ATMs these days, the chance of only having a $20 or greater in my wallet is fairly high.

    • 0 avatar
      tech98

      For a state with a lot of traveling tourists this seems pretty unfriendly and stupid.

      It can’t possibly make economic sense to stop and collect personal information from everyone who pays with cash on the off-chance of detecting an occasional counterfeit bill.

      This seems more like petty harassment, making it as inconvenient as possible to use bills because they make more profit with electronic payments.

  • avatar
    mikedt

    Perfect time to use a fake name, i.e. Heywood Jablowme. This is total bs.

  • avatar
    deanst

    Toronto’s Highway 407 has an easy solution to this – if you don’t have a transponder, your $2 toll becomes a $9 charge after all the added fees.  Whats makes it worse is that the provincial government sold the highway to a private firm years ago, so most of the money does not go back into the highway system or any other government program.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    My restaurant is also a private firm so why the hell can’t I also legally harrass and detain customers if they don’t possess a MikePass and try to pay with filthy U.S. currency instead? I know some may not come back but I have a very busy restaurant so… Besides, it sounds like fun!

  • avatar
    donkensler

    I’ve been in plenty or restaurants (actually more like diners or midwestern cafes) that didn’t want to hassle with big bills, but they always either posted a sign or had a notice in the menu to the effect of “We don’t accept anything larger than a $20 bill”.  Seems fair to me.
     
    On the other hand, unless the toll road posts a sign at the entrance saying something like “WARNING!  If you expect to pay cash, expect to be detained for as long as we feel like”, I think I would be justified in expecting that I could pay with cash without more delay than would be caused by the cashier’s having to make change.

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    I’m not a big fan of being tracked, but it is far easier to have the transponders. I live in Michigan, but I have stuck to my HHR’s windshield both a SunPass and a PA Turnpike EZ Pass. They were extremely easy to get. The EZ Pass I actually got out of a vending machine in Pennsylvania! The SunPass was obtained by computer within a few business days.
     
    I don’t get to travel out of MI that often, but when I do it sure is nice to get to just sail on through the toll booths.

    • 0 avatar
      Porsche986

      The best part of having EZ-Pass is that it is accepted in Indiana, and Illinois for their toll lanes.  I have an Illinois i-Pass, which also works on IL / IN / PA toll roads.

    • 0 avatar
      supremebrougham

      And don’t forget Ohio!
       
      I was looking at my little windshield the other day, and I had to laugh. I counted all the things attached to it, two transponders, a radar detector, gps, MI State Park stickers, rear view mirror, and oil change sticker. Did I mention that the windshield in an HHR is kinda little? Lol…

    • 0 avatar
      Advance_92

      I’ve had an IPass from Illinois for a long time because I used to commute on one toll road and still use I-88 to head west.  But it is part of EZ-Pass so I can use it across Indiana, Ohio and New York when I visit friends in New Hampshire.  Does the Mass Pike also use it? If I ever need to go around Pittsburgh to points east I suppose it works there, too.

      This is one case where a national standard is much more useful than a collection of state transponders (note to whoever is running the E-470 around Denver).

  • avatar
    Italian

    Couldn’t all tolls be standard and use one system? A standard valid in all the US?

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