COA halts bid to recoup hundreds of millions in motor carrier fees

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An appeals court on Friday affirmed a judgment for the Indiana Department of Revenue in a class-action lawsuit that sought to recoup hundreds of millions of dollars in state motor carrier fees trucking companies paid online.

The Indiana Court of Appeals rejected a suit filed on behalf of the Small Business in Transportation Coalition, Daywalt Trucking and 12 Percent Logistics. They claimed the Indiana Department of Revenue lacked authority to collect fees under the Unified Carrier Registration Act of 2005. Indiana is one of 41 states that collect state motor carrier registration fees, Judge Robert Altice noted for the court in affirming for the state.

Between 2008 and 2018, the Department of Revenue operated a web portal in conjunction with the United Carrier Registration Board that allowed truckers to pay their federal and state registration fees in one stop. But the trucking firms alleged in the class action that the state lacked authority to collect fees and asserted claims for reimbursement on theories of unjust enrichment and other grounds.

“In sum, INDOR, under agreements with the UCR Board, collected UCR fees from interstate carriers across the country that were owed and then distributed the funds pursuant to the UCR Plan and Agreement. INDOR’s actions resulted in satisfaction of Plaintiffs’ UCR obligations for about a decade. Plaintiffs’ attempt to recoup, based on equitable theories, hundreds of millions of dollars paid through the Portal is without basis in law,” Altice wrote for the court in Small Business in Transportation Coalition, et al. v. Indiana Department of Revenue, et al., 19A-PL-370.

Altice noted there was no evidence that fees collected through the website were not forwarded to the rightful recipient. Likewise, the panel rejected plaintiffs’ claims that they were compelled to use the website.

“On the contrary, Plaintiffs were not obligated to use the Portal. They chose to do so out of convenience,” the court held. “Regardless of whether they utilized the Portal, Plaintiffs were required to register and pay their UCR fees. By using the Portal, Plaintiffs’ annual UCR obligations were satisfied with their base state.

“Common sense dictates that the only inequitable or unjust result here would be requiring INDOR to return the fees it collected through the Portal — fees that were either set by the Secretary or approved by the UCR Board and that were voluntarily paid by carriers to satisfy their undeniable obligations and funds that INDOR has properly distributed … .”

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