Federal Court: State of Rhode Island Grilled at Hearing on Truck-Focused Tolls

A lawyer for Rhode Island faced stern questions Tuesday from the First Circuit while defending the state’s system of making only large trucks pay bridge and highway tolls.

Pushing the Boston-based federal appeals court to affirm dismissal of the case, the state’s Assistant Attorney General Michael Field tried to make the case this morning that road tolls qualify as a tax, which requires the trucking companies to bring their suit in state court pursuant to the Tax Injunction Act.

But the argument met with pushback from the presiding three-judge panel.

“You can’t point to a single case where what was called a toll was a tax,” U.S. Circuit Judge William Kayatta told Field. “None of them turn your way.”

Field replied that the issue hadn’t been decided because most of the previous cases had simply assumed that a toll was different from a tax without anyone raising the point.