9/24/2012Florida: Court Approves Detaining Motorists at Toll Booth
US Court of Appeals upholds right of toll road operators to detain drivers for using large denomination currency.
Motorists can be held indefinitely at toll booths if they pay with large denomination bills, according to a federal appeals court ruling handed down Wednesday. A family of drivers -- Joel, Deborah and Robert Chandler -- filed suit last year arguing 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.
Under FDOT policies in place at the time, motorists who paid with $50 bills, and occasionally even $5 bills, were not given permission to proceed until the toll collector filled out a "Bill Detection Report" with data about the motorist's vehicle and details from his driver's license. 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. They were likewise unwilling to provide personal information to the toll collector, but they had no alternative because the toll barrier would not be raised without compliance. FDOT policy does not allow passengers to exit their vehicle, and backing up is illegal and usually impossible while other cars wait behind. FDOT dropped the Bill Detection Reports in 2010.
A three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit US Court of Appeals did not buy the argument that these motorist detentions rose to the level of a constitutional violation.
"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," the court wrote in its unsigned decision. "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."
The judges found it was reasonable for Fanueil to set regulations for use of the road -- including the types of acceptable payment. The court decided that drivers implicitly agreed to those conditions by choosing to use the toll road.
"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 court ruled. "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 dismissed the lawsuit in its entirety. A copy of the decision is available in a 100k PDF file at the source link below.