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Cochran v. Illinois State Toll Highway Authority

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

July 15, 2015



MANISH S. SHAH, District Judge.

Jeffrey Cochran, a lifelong Ohio resident, drove to Chicago to visit family. Unfamiliar with Illinois's toll highway system, and unable to understand the signs directing him to toll booths, he missed three tolls. He didn't know that he could avoid a fine by paying his missed tolls online or by phone within seven days, so he was assessed $60 in fines ($20 per missed toll). Cochran brought this putative class-action suit against the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority and members of its Board of Directors, alleging that the way tolls and fines are collected in Illinois violates the United States Constitution and Illinois state law.

Cochran's first amended complaint was dismissed because it failed to state a claim. Cochran amended his complaint, and defendants again moved to dismiss. For the reasons discussed below, the second amended complaint does not plausibly allege a constitutional violation; therefore the constitutional claims are dismissed with prejudice. Cochran's state-law claims are dismissed without prejudice.

I. Legal Standards

In deciding whether to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), I construe the complaint in the light most favorable to Cochran, accept as true all well-pleaded facts, and draw reasonable inferences in his favor. Yeftich v. Navistar, Inc., 722 F.3d 911, 915 (7th Cir. 2013). To avoid dismissal, the complaint must "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Yeftich, 722 F.3d at 915 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Yeftich, 722 F.3d at 915 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).

II. Facts[1]

A. Illinois's Toll Highway System

The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority is an administrative agency of the State of Illinois. SAC ¶ 5. The Authority operates Illinois's toll highway system. SAC ¶ 5. In that system, cars equipped with electronic transponders can pass under toll bridges at high speeds while tolls are automatically collected. SAC ¶ 19. But drivers without transponders must slow down and move to designated cash lanes to pay their tolls-using a lane meant for transponders results in a missed toll. SAC ¶¶ 19, 22, 23.

There is a grace period for missed tolls: if paid online or by mail within seven days, it is as if the toll was never missed. SAC ¶ 29. Otherwise, after seven days, a missed toll becomes a "violation." SAC ¶ 29. If a driver accrues three violations within a two-year period, the Authority mails him a notice saying he owes the tolls plus a $20 fine for each violation.[2] SAC ¶¶ 28-29. The notice informs the driver that he can contest the violations at a hearing. SAC ¶ 29. But the notice warns that "[t]oll evasion is a public, strict liability and vicarious liability violation, " and therefore it is no defense that "(1) the violation notice wasn't mailed sooner, (2) the driver did not intend to miss the payment or go through [a transponder] lane, or (3) someone else was driving the vehicle." SAC ¶ 33.

Transponder users can miss tolls too-for example, if the associated credit card has expired. SAC ¶ 31. Unlike cash-paying drivers, transponder users are given a second grace period: for a period of time after the notice is mailed, transponder users can avoid fines by paying their missed tolls and updating their account information. SAC ¶¶ 31-32.

Through advertising, the Authority educated Illinois residents on its toll system. SAC ¶ 20. Additionally, instructions are displayed along the highway on overhead signs. SAC ¶ 19. The signs were designed using studies in which, after viewing multiple prototype signs in a computer-simulated driving environment, participants were asked which signs best conveyed the instructions. SAC ¶¶ 24-25. Based on that research, the Authority selected the most visible signs. SAC ¶ 25.

B. Cochran's Violations

In December 2013, Cochran drove from northeast Ohio to Chicago. SAC ¶ 38. When he crossed into Illinois, he received no information about Illinois's toll highway system. SAC ¶¶ 23, 38. Because he was unaware that he had to use designated cash lanes, and because he had trouble understanding the overhead signs, he missed three tolls. SAC ¶¶ 39-40, 42; [40] at 5. After the expiration of the grace period, Cochran ...

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