Madison Ruppert, Contributor
In one of the more insane rulings recently – the appeals court decision to block the judge’s ruling on the unconstitutionality of the Obama administration’s indefinite detention notwithstanding – a federal appeals court ruled that motorists can, essentially, be held indefinitely at toll booths if they pay the toll with a large denomination bill.
The ruling (PDF courtesy of The Newspaper) came down in the U.S. Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit, on September 19, 2012 in the case of Chandler v. FDOT (Florida Department of Transportation).
The chandler family, consisting of Joel Deborah and Robert Chandler, filed the lawsuit last year in which they argue that they were “effectively being held hostage by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the private contractor in charge of the state’s toll road, Faneuil, Inc.”
The FDOT policies at the time dictated that any driver who paid with a $50 bill, or, as The Newspaper reports, “occasionally even $5 bills,” was not to be given permission to proceed until the toll collector completed a s-called “Bill Detection Report.”
These reports include data about the driver’s vehicle and details obtained from their driver’s license as well.
Obviously these reports completely nullify the privacy protection offered by opting to pay with cash instead of installing a “SunPass” transponder on their vehicle which records their travels for later retrieval.
Indeed, detailed papers have been written in an effort to preserve driver privacy when using these toll collection technologies in order “to resolve the tension between the desire for sophisticated road pricing schemes and drivers’ interest in maintaining the privacy of their driving patterns.”
“Many of those who chose to pay cash did so to avoid the privacy implications of installing a SunPass transponder that recorded their driving habits,” reports The Newspaper.
It is hardly surprising to learn that these same drivers who opted to use cash for privacy reasons were unwilling to provide their personal information to the toll collector.
The drivers were then essentially forced to give the toll collector their private information because the barrier in the toll booth would not be raised until the driver complied with the Bill Detection Report.
The drivers would then be in quite a pickle since FDOT policy does not allow anyone to exit the vehicle. Similarly, backing up is illegal and usually a physical impossibility due to the presence of other vehicles.
Thankfully, the FDOT reportedly dropped the Bill Detection Reports in 2010 but nothing is stopping them from reinstating it, especially after this supportive court decision.
The Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals’ three-judge panel determined that these clear detentions of motorists was not significant enough to be considered a constitutional violation, which is hardly surprising given that the U.S. Attorney General himself considers secret reviews of classified evidence due process.
When the judicial system’s top figures are this clearly warped and divorced from the reality of the impact of their unconstitutional decisions, I am in no way astounded to see lower courts acting in similarly insane ways.
“The fact that a person is not free to leave on his own terms at a given moment, however, does not, by itself, mean that the person has been ‘seized’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment,” wrote the court in their ruling.
“In Florida, a person’s right and liberty to use a highway is not absolute; it may be regulated in the public interest through reasonable and reasonably executed regulations,” they added.
This ruling is much more insidious than it seems at first glance since the court is not only saying you have no absolute right to use what was once public property, but they are also saying that a private corporation can set regulations for the use of the road.
“The judges found it was reasonable for Faneuil to set regulations for use of the road — including the types of acceptable payment,” The Newspaper reported.
The court ruled that drivers were beholden to the company’s seemingly arbitrary regulations since they implicitly agreed to them when they chose to use the toll road in the first place.
Florida seems to be on the forefront of toll road privatization with one completed, eleven underway and one underway which is shared with another state (according to a 2009 report).
While some private toll roads are constructed as such, others are privatized “through long-term highway lease agreements on existing highways,” according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund’s 2009 report linked above.
This factor was completely ignored by the court which chose to focus on the Chandlers and their supposed culpability for using bills with large denominations.
“The Chandlers have not alleged that they were forced to pay their tolls with large-denomination bills, thereby subjecting themselves to whatever delay was caused by completion of the Bill Detection Report,” the ruling stated. “They chose to pay their toll with large-denomination bills. Nor have they alleged that they asked to withdraw the large report-triggering bill in favor of a smaller delay-free bill and were denied that opportunity.”
The court threw out the lawsuit entirely and in doing so established what, in my opinion, is a quite dangerous precedent.
This article first appeared at End the Lie.