A federal class-action lawsuit seeking to recover millions of dollars in fines that E-ZPass has levied on users has been put on hold — possibly for months — until a state court determines whether the service's $50 fine for missed tolls is legal.

A group of E-ZPass users who were assessed $50 fines for each missed toll are appealing the Turnpike Authority's recent decision that the fee is permitted under state law, which prohibits E-ZPass from profiting from fines. The fines are supposed to be based on the cost of what it takes to recover missed tolls from a user.

Matthew Faranda-Diedrich, attorney with the firm Royer Cooper Cohen Braunfeld in Philadelphia, who is representing E-ZPass users, said the fee violates the 8th Amendment, which prohibits excessive fines.

The Turnpike Authority doubled the fine to $50 in 2011, claiming that the increase was necessary to keep up with rising costs associated with processing violations.

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 just $18.37. And 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 Turnpike Authority has argued that previous cost calculations of processing violations did not take into account hidden costs like maintaining the toll booths with radar, cameras, transponder-reading antennas, computer networks and labor, which would make the true cost of the fine much higher — $91.

Faranda-Diedrich said if the court rules the $50 fee is invalid, “then our argument is that all of the money that was taken pursuant to that fee over the past seven years and counting should be returned to the motorists who paid the fee.”
That would be a lot of checks issued to a lot of people — as many as 5 million.

He said if the court rules the money must be refunded, drivers who are not part of the federal or state lawsuits would not have to do anything to get a refund.

“What we’re asking the court to do is to order a refund of all of the money to the motorists. We believe that the Turnpike has the records they would need to return the money to the motorists," he said.

He noted when the judges in the case make a ruling, they could decide to order a full refund to everyone who paid an E-ZPass fine since 2011, or they could push the matter off to the class-action lawsuit in federal District Court of New Jersey.

He stressed the people who have filed the lawsuit are law-abiding citizens who paid the fine when they received the violation notice.

“These are not people who received the notice and threw it away, or received the notice and said I’m not going to pay that, or are some sort of a scofflaw or a cheat. They did the responsible thing and paid them," he said.

New Jersey Turnpike spokesman Tom Feeney declined to comment on pending litigation.

The appellate division could take months to render a decision.

Those interested in joining the suit can contact Faranda-Diedrich at 267-546-0275.

This story was originally published in February, 2019. The lawsuit it discusses is still pending. In June, a court told E-ZPass it must provide evidence to justify the $50 fee.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com