AMERICAN TRUCKING ASSOCIATIONS, INC.; CUMBERLAND FARMS, INC.; M&M TRANSPORT SERVICES, INC.; NEW ENGLAND MOTOR FREIGHT, INC., Plaintiffs, Appellants,
PETER ALVITI, JR., in his official capacity as Director of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation; RHODE ISLAND TURNPIKE AND BRIDGE AUTHORITY, Defendants, Appellees.
FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF
RHODE ISLAND [Hon. William E. Smith, U.S. District Judge]
Charles A. Rothfeld, with whom Evan M. Tager, Colleen M.
Campbell, Mayer Brown LLP, Richard Pianka, and American
Trucking Associations Litigation Center, were on brief, for
Michael W. Field, Assistant Attorney General, Deputy Chief,
Civil Division, Rhode Island Office of Attorney General, with
whom Peter F. Neronha, Attorney General, was on joint brief,
for appellee Alviti, Jr.
A. Tarantino, with whom Patricia K. Rocha, R. Bart Totten,
Nicole J. Benjamin, and Adler Pollock & Sheehan were on
joint brief, for appellee Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge
Torruella, Lynch, and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.
KAYATTA, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
appeal poses the question whether bridge and highway tolls
authorized by a Rhode Island statute are taxes within the
meaning of the Tax Injunction Act ("TIA"). The
state statute in question authorizes the Rhode Island
Department of Transportation ("RIDOT") to collect
from tractor- trailers certain "tolls for the privilege
of traveling on Rhode Island bridges" in order to pay
"for replacement, reconstruction, maintenance, and
operation" of the bridges. R.I. Gen. Laws §
42-13.1-4(a). The plaintiff trucking entities filed this
lawsuit asking the United States District Court for the
District of Rhode Island to enjoin the collection of those
tolls as violative of the Commerce Clause of the United
States Constitution. The district court dismissed the lawsuit
for want of jurisdiction under the TIA, which states that
"[t]he district courts shall not enjoin, suspend or
restrain the assessment, levy or collection of any tax under
State law where a plain, speedy and efficient remedy may be
had in the courts of such State." 28 U.S.C. § 1341.
For the following reasons, we find the TIA's prohibition
inapplicable to the Rhode Island tolls, and reverse.
2016, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed the Rhode
Island Bridge Replacement, Reconstruction, and Maintenance
Fund Act ("RhodeWorks"). See R.I. Gen.
Laws §§ 42-13.1-1 to -9. The General Assembly found
that 23% of large Rhode Island bridges were
"structurally deficient" and that current funding
sources were insufficient to cover the cost of maintenance.
Id. § 42-13.1-2(2), (7). It also found that
large commercial trucks cause over 70% of the damage to Rhode
Island roads and bridges but contribute less than 20% of the
revenue to fund transportation infrastructure under existing
sources. Id. § 42-13.1-2(8). To eliminate that
funding disparity, the General Assembly authorized RIDOT to
collect tolls exclusively from large commercial trucks.
Id. §§ 42-13.1-4(a), -5.
imposes a daily limit on such tolls of $40 per truck and a
$20 limit on border-to-border trips along Interstate 95.
Id. § 42-13.1-4(c), (d). Within those limits,
RIDOT determines both the locations of toll collection and
the amounts of the tolls. Id. §§ 42-13.1-7
to -8. Under RIDOT's authority, the Rhode Island Turnpike
and Bridge Authority ("RITBA") collects the tolls
and deposits the revenue into a special account. Id.
§§ 42-13.1-3(9), -9. This account, called the
"Rhode Island bridge replacement, reconstruction, and
maintenance fund," can be used only "to pay the
costs associated with the operation and maintenance of the
toll facilit[ies]" and to fund the "replacement,
reconstruction, maintenance, and operation of Rhode Island
bridges." Id. §§ 42-13.1-6(a), -9.
"Unexpended balances and any earnings thereon shall not
revert to the general fund . . . ." Id. §
Trucking Associations, Inc., Cumberland Farms, Inc., M&M
Transport Services, Inc., and New England Motor Freight, Inc.
brought this suit against Peter Alviti, Jr. in his official
capacity as Director of RIDOT, and RITBA intervened as a
defendant. We refer to plaintiffs collectively as
"American Trucking," and to defendants as
"Rhode Island." American Trucking challenged
RhodeWorks as unconstitutionally discriminatory against
out-of-state entities under the dormant Commerce Clause.
Am. Trucking Ass'ns v. Alviti, 377 F.Supp.3d
125, 127 (D.R.I. 2019). Rhode Island moved to dismiss on
three grounds: (1) the district court lacked subject matter
jurisdiction under the TIA; (2) principles of comity and
federalism required the district court to decline subject
matter jurisdiction; and (3) the Eleventh Amendment barred
the suit. Id. Finding it to be a "close
call," the district court dismissed the suit pursuant to
the TIA and did not address the other grounds for dismissal.
Id. at 128, 133.
Trucking timely appealed. The parties agree that Rhode Island
state courts provide a "plain, speedy and efficient
remedy" within the meaning of the TIA. The only dispute
is whether the RhodeWorks tolls are a "tax." We
review de novo. See Fothergill v. United
States, 566 F.3d 248, 251 (1st Cir. 2009).
begin with the text of the TIA, asking whether the word
"tax" includes tolls, or more precisely the tolls
at issue here. The TIA contains no definition of the word
"tax," so we look to the word's "ordinary
. . . meaning . . . at the time Congress enacted the
statute." New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira, 139 S.Ct.
532, 539 (2019) (omissions in original) (quoting Wis.
Cent. Ltd. v. United States, 138 S.Ct. 2067, 2074
enacted the TIA in 1937. Pub. L. No. 75-332, 50 Stat. 738
(1937). When we look at whether the word "tax" was
then understood to include tolls, we find something of a
mixed bag, albeit one quite heavily loaded in favor of
treating tolls as something other than taxes. We are aware of
five pre-1937 opinions in which courts used the word
"tax" to describe what otherwise might have seemed
like tolls, or in some other way conflated tolls and
taxes. In none of these cases was the question
whether a toll is a tax directly at issue. In fact, the word
"toll" does not even appear in the only two federal
opinions among those five cases. Rather, the Supreme Court in
each of those cases simply used the term "tax" as
used by the pertinent state legislature. Nevertheless, Rhode
Island relies on these cases as demonstrating that calling
toll-like charges "taxes" was hardly unknown.
other hand, we are aware of at least six pre-1937 cases in
which the issue before the court was whether a toll is a tax,
and in all six of those cases the court held that a toll is
not a tax. Most significantly, those cases include a
Supreme Court decision squarely holding that river tolls are
not taxes for purposes of a due process
challenge. See Sands v. Manistee River
Improvement Co., 123 U.S. 288, 294 (1887) (Field,
J.). Sands flatly states:
There is no analogy between the imposition of taxes and the
levying of tolls for improvements of highways; and any
attempt to justify or condemn proceedings in the one case, by
reference to those in the other, must be misleading. Taxes
are levied for the support of government, and their amount is
regulated by its necessities. Tolls are the compensation for
the use of another's property, or of improvements made by
him; and their amount is determined by the cost of the
property, or of the improvements, and considerations of the
return which such values or expenditures should yield.
Id.; see also id. at 297 ("By the
terms tax, impost, and duty . . . is meant a charge for the
use of the government, not compensation for
improvements." (quoting Huse v. Glover, 119
U.S. 543, 549 (1886))).
deciding whether the ordinary meaning of "tax"
included tolls in 1937, we also have the substantial benefit
of Thomas Cooley's treatise, The Law of
Taxation. The Supreme Court in 1898 described Cooley as
a "text writer of high authority." Parsons v.
District of Columbia, 170 U.S. 45, 55 (1898);
accord Hill v. Kemp, 478 F.3d 1236, 1244
n.7 (10th Cir. 2007) (Gorsuch, J.) (quoting Parsons,
170 U.S. at 55). Over eighty years later, the Court cited his
treatise as shedding light on Congress's understanding of
a tax rule when it enacted the TIA. Rosewell v. LaSalle
Nat'l Bank, 450 U.S. 503, 523-24 (1981) (citing 3
Thomas M. Cooley, The Law of Taxation § 1308
(Clark A. Nichols ed., 4th ed. 1924)). The edition of
Cooley's treatise extant in 1937 when the TIA was enacted
A "toll" is a "sum of money for the use of
something, generally applied to the consideration which is
paid for the use of a road, bridge or the like, of a public
nature." The term "toll," in its application
to the law of taxation, is nearly obsolete. It was formerly
applied to duties on imports and exports; but tolls, as now
understood, are applied most exclusively to charges for
permission to pass over a bridge, road or ferry owned by the
person imposing them. ...