Appeals court affirms class certification in suit over Miami-Dade Expressway Authority's toll by plate system

By Kyla Asbury | Jul 16, 2018

MIAMI — The Third District Court of Appeal for the State of Florida issued an opinion affirming an order granting a motion for class certification in a lawsuit against the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX) and others.

The opinion was filed on June 27. The appeal was from a non-final order from Miami-Dade County Circuit Court where Judge John W. Thornton Jr. was presiding.

The appeal was before Leslie B. Rothenberg, Vance E. Salter and Robert J. Luck. Salter authored the majority opinion. Rothenberg dissented and authored a separate opinion.

Tropical Trailer Leasing and eight other co-plaintiffs lease trailers and MDX began a program called SunPass in 2010 that charged for tolls. If a truck did not have a SunPass transponder, a video "toll by plate" system was in place that charged the trailer's owner for the tolls.

MDX was charging the plaintiffs for the full five-axle toll even though they had the capability to charge the front tag that belonged to the driver for its portion of the toll. MDX made no attempt to identify the drivers of the trucks and the plaintiffs sued.

The plaintiffs argued the "toll by plate" system was unlawfully charging them tolls when third parties were towing their trailers. They argued that Florida statutes stated that the drivers were responsible for the toll and not the trailer owners.

Class certification was granted in the case and MDX appealed the order granting the certification.

The appeals court ruled the class certification motion was "thoroughly briefed and argued by experienced counsel on both sides," and that the evidentiary hearing included substantial evidence establishing what was required for class certification.

"The very nature of the claim—allegedly-improper toll charges on heavily-traveled expressways with tens of thousands of pertinent billings—supports the adjudication of the claims as a class action," Salter wrote. "No single trailer owner could cost-effectively maintain such an action, seeking reimbursement for a series of charges of a few dollars per 'Toll by Plate' billing."

Rothenberg noted in her dissent that she felt the trial court erred when it found that the numerosity requirement was satisfied. She called the certified class overbroad.

"Our standard of review is not de novo, but the abuse of discretion standard of review is not a rubber stamp," she wrote.

Rothenberg wrote that Tropical Trailer failed to produce evidence to prove that the joinder of proper class members was impracticable.

"This shortcoming is fatal to the remainder of the class certification analysis," she wrote. "Therefore, the trial court abused its discretion by granting Tropical’s motion for class certification."

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