Nos. 3D18-77 3D17-2608
Akerman, LLP and Diane G. DeWolf (Tallahassee), Gerald B. Cope, Jr., A. Rodger Traynor, Jr. and Lawrence D. Silverman, Miami, for appellants. Johnson, Anselmo, Murdoch, Burke, Piper & Hochman, PA, Christopher J. Stearns, Ft. Lauderdale, and Jonathan H. Railey (Ft. Lauderdale), for appellees.
Akerman, LLP and Diane G. DeWolf (Tallahassee), Gerald B. Cope, Jr., A. Rodger Traynor, Jr. and Lawrence D. Silverman, Miami, for appellants.
Johnson, Anselmo, Murdoch, Burke, Piper & Hochman, PA, Christopher J. Stearns, Ft. Lauderdale, and Jonathan H. Railey (Ft. Lauderdale), for appellees.
Before SALTER, FERNANDEZ and LINDSEY, JJ.
Tropical Trailer Leasing, LLC ("Tropical") appeals: 1) the trial court's October 31, 2017 non-final order denying Tropical's motion for summary judgment as to Count I (injunctive relief) and Count III (declaratory relief), including the denial of Tropical's request for a permanent prospective injunction to prevent Miami-Dade Expressway Authority ("MDX") from charging its trailers tolls, and 2) the trial court's December 12, 2017 non-final order granting MDX's motion for summary judgment regarding Counts I and III. Upon review of the record and the relevant statutes, we find that MDX is exercising its proper authority to charge tolls to all trailers using its roadways. Because Tropical has failed to provide evidence of a clear legal right to the relief sought, has not established irreparable harm, and has an adequate remedy through contract, the trial court's denial of a permanent injunction and granting of summary judgment in favor of MDX was proper in this case. Therefore, we affirm the orders on appeal.
Tropical appealed these orders separately. This Court has consolidated the appeals for all purposes. Our review of these non-final orders is proper as it concerns granting, continuing, modifying, denying, or dissolving injunctions. Fla. R. App. P. 9.130(a)(3)(B).
Tropical Trailer and its eight Tropical affiliates are engaged in the trailer leasing business. Each of the affiliates own a fleet of semi-trailers, and Tropical Trailer provides management services. Neither Tropical Trailer nor its affiliates own any "truck cabs," "truck tractors," or "tractors." Tropical Trailer and its affiliates (collectively, "Tropical") hire their trailers out to contractors who: 1) in turn, may hire a sub-contractor who owns a tractor to tow the trailer; 2) may own a tractor and use its own drivers to tow the trailer; or 3) may own a tractor and hire an independent driver to drive its tractor. These contractors and/or their sub-contractors are the registered owners of the tractors that tow Tropical's trailers.
Tropical contends that MDX is violating section 316.1001, Florida Statutes (2012), by charging Tropical for tolls through the Toll-by-Plate method rather than charging the registered owner of the tractor or the driver of the tractor. Tropical asserts that historically, before the Toll-by-Plate method, the driver of the tractor would pay the full toll directly with cash or through a SunPass transponder.
With the Toll-by-Plate method, MDX first attempts to charge a SunPass transponder mounted inside the tractor, if there is one available. If that fails, it will attempt to bill the owner of the front-facing license plate located on the tractor, if the toll lane is equipped with a front facing camera (at this time, not all toll lanes have a front-facing camera installed) and if the image captured by the front-facing camera is clear enough to read. If this fails, it will then attempt to bill the owner of the rear-facing license plate located on the trailer. This last option, billing the owner of the trailer, is at issue on appeal.
Tropical initiated a class action suit against MDX and MDX's Executive Director, Javier Rodriguez, in his official capacity. Relevant to the instant appeal, in the Second Amended Complaint, Tropical sought a permanent prospective injunction to prevent MDX from charging its trailers (Count I). Tropical never pled or otherwise argued that the statutes governing MDX's imposition of tolls are unconstitutional or illegal. Tropical also requested declaratory relief that would prevent MDX from charging Tropical tolls (Count III). Counts I and III are the only counts relevant to this appeal, which are both prospective in nature. Neither count concerns refunds, either prior to 2012 or after. In the October 31, 2017 order on appeal, the trial court merely denied Tropical's motion for summary judgment without explanation. In the December 26, 2017 order on appeal, the trial court denied injunctive relief and granted summary judgment as to Counts I and III, in accordance with MDX's motion, and provided its reasoning as follows:
The Plaintiff seeks too much from this Court. Only the Legislature can make new law. The tolls imposed and right to do so, by whatever method MDX chooses, are granted to it by the Legislature. The definition of a motor vehicle and the imposition of fines are Legislative prerogatives. It is not for the Court to require MDX to operate its business in a manner which has the Plaintiff[']s approval. Nor is it for the Court to require MDX to install cameras in different positions or locations, or facing forward or backward. Such requirements are for the Legislature and MDX. Plaintiffs' relief is through their contractual relations with their customers or drivers, or with the legislature, but not this Court. Plaintiffs have not and do not argue that the applicable statutes are unconstitutional. Further, Plaintiffs have not exhausted their administrative remedies. Plaintiffs have failed to provide evidence of a clear legal right to the relief sought. Plaintiff cannot establish irreparable harm as there is an adequate remedy at law.
(Emphasis added). This appeal followed.
The standard of review for an order granting summary judgment is de novo . Shaw v. Tampa Elec. Co., 949 So. 2d 1066, 1069 (Fla. 2d DCA 2007). We review a trial court's decision regarding failure to exhaust administrative remedies for an abuse of discretion. S. Fla. Blood Bank, Inc. v. Futch, 764 So. 2d 724, 725-26 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000). In order to establish a purported entitlement to a permanent injunction, the party requesting the injunction must "establish a clear legal right, an inadequate remedy at law[,] and that irreparable harm will arise absent injunctive relief." Hollywood Towers Condo. Ass'n, Inc. v. Hampton, 40 So. 3d 784, 786 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010).
We agree with the trial court's analysis and rulings provided in the orders on appeal. MDX's current method of charging trailer owners by the Toll-by-Plate method is within the bounds of the statute, given that the 2012 amendment redefined the definition of "motor vehicle" to include trailers. Further, Tropical has an adequate remedy through contract. MDX's tolling methods before the 2012 amendment are not at issue on appeal and, therefore, will not be addressed.
The legislature gave MDX statutory authority to charge tolls to the owners of motor vehicles using MDX's roadways. As of the 2012 amendment, a trailer falls within the definition of "motor vehicle" for purposes of section 316.1001, Florida Statutes (2012). Therefore, MDX is exercising its proper statutory authority to charge trailer owners tolls for using MDX's roadways. Tropical has an adequate remedy outside the courts available through contract between its contractors and/or the drivers of the tractors. Because Tropical is asking for a prospective injunctive and declaratory relief preventing MDX from charging tolls in the future, the statute that provides an administrative remedy is not directly relevant, as it is a remedy for motor vehicle owners who have been charged a citation for failure to pay tolls. Even if we were to find that an administrative remedy applies to the context of a company disputing a toll itself, the statute requires the driver's information to be included in the affidavit. This Court cannot change the statute's requirements on Tropical's request. Tropical's complaint is with the legislature and does not belong in the courts.
A. MDX's Statutory Authority
This appeal concerns the 2012 amendment to section 316.003, Florida Statutes (2012), which added "tractors" to the types of motor vehicle required to pay tolls pursuant to section 316.1001. Tropical argues that simply adding the term "tractor" did not grant MDX permission to assess tolls against trailer owners. Tropical focuses on the "use" language of section 316.1001(1) : "A person may not use any toll facility without payment of tolls ...." (Emphasis added). Tropical claims that it does not voluntarily use MDX's toll roads, and therefore, only the driver or contractor who owns the tractor should pay the toll. Yet, Tropical is unable to cite to any authority for this interpretation. It can only argue that historically it has not been charged tolls but does not challenge the constitutionality or the legality of the new definition of "motor vehicle."
As an alternative argument, Tropical argues that if it is to be charged, it should only be charged for the number of axles on its trailer, as MDX calculates the toll based on the number of axles. We find this argument irrelevant, given the 2012 amendment to section 316.003.
By way of the 2012 amendment to section 316.003, the legislature adopted the definition of "motor vehicle" from Chapter 320 and applied it to the types of motor vehicles that are required to pay tolls under section 316.1001. Prior to the amendment, only "self-propelled vehicle[s]" were required to pay tolls, implicitly excluding trailers pulled by tractors. The 2012 amendment changed the definition to vehicles "propelled by power," which explicitly includes, as listed in the statute: "trailer[s], semitrailer[s], truck tractor[s,] and semitrailer combination[s]." Therefore, MDX's current method of charging trailer owners by the Toll-by-Plate method is within the bounds of the statute.
Section 316.003 - 2011 and 2012 comparison:
2011 - 316.003 Definitions.
(21) MOTOR VEHICLE.—Any self-propelled vehicle not operated upon rails or guideway, but not including any bicycle, motorized scooter, electric personal assistive mobility device, or moped.
2012 - 316.003 Definitions.
(21) MOTOR VEHICLE.—Except when used in s. 316.1001 , a self-propelled vehicle not operated upon rails or guideway, but not including any bicycle, motorized scooter, electric personal assistive mobility device, swamp buggy, or moped. For purposes of s. 316.1001, "motor vehicle" has the same meaning as in s. 320.01 (1(a).
Section 320.01 definition of "motor vehicle":
2012 - 320.01 Definitions, general.—As used in the Florida Statutes, except as otherwise provided, the term:
(1) "Motor vehicle" means:
(a) An automobile, motorcycle, truck, trailer, semitrailer, truck tractor and semitrailer combination, or any other vehicle operated on the roads of this state, used to transport persons or property, and propelled by power other than muscular power, but the term does not include traction engines, road rollers, special mobile equipment as defined in s. 316.003 (48), vehicles that run only upon a track, bicycles, swamp buggies, or mopeds.
B. Administrative Remedy
Tropical claims that it has attempted multiple times to submit an affidavit to MDX in order to exhaust its administrative remedies pursuant to section 316.1001(2)(c), but each time, it is rejected due to incompleteness. Tropical alleges that it is unable to provide the required personal information of the driver of the trailer in "the care, custody, or control" of the tractor at the time of the violation, because it is not privy to this information. § 316.1001(2)(c), Fla. Stat. (2012) ; see also Futch, 764 So. 2d at 726 (In order for a party to claim futility as the reason for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, the party must make a " ‘clear and positive’ showing of futility."). Instead, Tropical states that it has submitted the name and information of the contractor that rented the trailer, but MDX has found this insufficient.
The administrative process provided in section 316.1001(2)(c) is as follows:
The owner of the motor vehicle involved in the violation is responsible and liable for payment of a citation issued for failure to pay a toll, unless the owner can establish the motor vehicle was, at the time of the violation, in the care, custody, or control of another person. In order to establish such facts, the owner of the motor vehicle is required, within 14 days after the date of issuance of the citation, to furnish to the appropriate governmental entity an affidavit setting forth: 1. The name, address, date of birth, and, if known, the driver license number of the person who leased, rented, or otherwise had the care, custody, or control of the motor vehicle at the time of the alleged violation ....
Section 316.1001(2)(c) is the only administrative remedy process provided in the statute, but it is only available to owners of motor vehicles that have incurred "a citation issued for failure to pay a toll." This administrative remedy is not for those who merely receive a bill for a toll through the Toll-by-Plate system. According to the information provided on the SunPass website:
Failure to pay a Toll Enforcement Invoice by the due date will result in the assessment of an additional $2.50 administrative charge and the issuance of a second notice. Failure to pay the second
notice by the due date can result in the toll and administrative fee amounts being assigned to a collection agency which will add additional fees to the balance owed. Additionally, a registration hold can be placed on your license plate in accordance with Florida Statute and a Uniform Traffic Citation may be issued to the vehicle's owner.
SunPass, https://www.sunpass.com/en/unpaid/collection.shtml (last visited July 8, 2019) (emphasis added). The parties and the trial court failed to make this distinction. The fact that there is no available administrative remedy for merely receiving a bill for a toll through the Toll-by-Plate system reinforces all the more the wide authority the legislature has afforded to MDX to charge tolls. Even if this Court were to find that the administrative process applies in this instance, the statute clearly states that the driver's information is required in the affidavit. Courts are not permitted to alter the requirements of the statute.
C. Contractual Remedy
As the order on appeal rightly states, "Plaintiffs' relief is through their contractual relations with their customers or drivers ...." This is not a farfetched solution on the part of the trial court. Rental car companies enter into contracts everyday with renters that include a provision in which the company will either charge the renter directly for any tolls charged to the company or allow the renter to opt in to a pre-payment option.
As is stated on the SunPass website:
Most major rental car companies now offer their customers the option of paying tolls with the credit/debit card used to rent the vehicle. These rental car customers can use Florida's toll roads and not worry about carrying cash or stopping to pay for tolls. Using license plate recognition systems, toll usage can be associated with your travel and paid through your rental agreement. ... Rental agencies or their associated third-party vendors will assess the fees agreed to in your rental agreement to collect the toll(s).... SunPass customers that do not have their transponders in their rental vehicles are subject to the tolls, fees and charges set forth below and in their rental agreements.
SunPass, https://www.sunpass.com/en/tolls/rentalVehicles.shtml (last visited July 8, 2019).
In light of this type of provision in rental car agreements, there is no plausible reason why Tropical, or any other rental trailer company, cannot find an adequate remedy through a contractual agreement between it and its contractors who rent its trailers. See Stand Up for Animals, Inc. v. Monroe Cty., 69 So. 3d 1011, 1013 (Fla. 3d DCA 2011) ("[I]rreparable harm for the purposes of an injunction is not established where the harm can be compensated for adequately by money damages."). There is no distinction between rental car companies and rental trailer companies on this issue.
Thus, on review of the 2012 amendment and the relevant statutes, MDX is exercising its proper authority to charge tolls to all trailers using its roadways. On this basis, Tropical has failed to provide evidence of a clear legal right to the relief sought and has not established irreparable harm. Tropical, and every other rental trailer company, has an adequate remedy through contract. Summary judgment granted in favor of MDX was proper, and the trial court did not err in denying Tropical's motion for summary judgment and request for injunction. Accordingly, we affirm the orders on appeal.