Miami-Dade Expressway Authority and Javier Rodriguez, P.E., etc., Appellants,
Tropical Trailer Leasing, L.L.C., et al., Appellees.
final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.
Appeal from a non-final order from the Circuit Court for
Miami-Dade County, John W. Thornton, Jr., Judge. Lower
Tribunal No. 14-26236
Johnson, Anselmo, Murdoch, Burke, Piper & Hochman and
Jonathan H. Railey, Michael R. Piper and Christopher J.
Stearns (Fort Lauderdale), for appellants.
Akerman LLP and A. Rodger Traynor, Jr., and Lawrence D.
Silverman, for appellees.
ROTHENBERG, C.J., and SALTER and LUCK, JJ.
Miami-Dade Expressway Authority and Javier Rodriguez, P.E.,
in his official capacity as Executive Director of Miami-Dade
Expressway Authority (collectively, "MDX"), appeal
an order granting a motion for class certification by
Tropical Trailer Leasing, L.L.C. ("Tropical
Trailer"), and eight co-plaintiffs (collectively, the
nine plaintiffs are referred to as "Plaintiffs").
Facts; Proceedings in the Circuit Court
Plaintiffs are in the business of leasing trailers. The
trailers are not self-propelled, and the Plaintiffs do not
own the tractor trucks needed to transport the trailers. The
Plaintiffs lease the trailers to third parties, who in turn
hire the owners of tractor trucks to tow the leased trailers.
Many times the tractor truck owners hire independent drivers
for a particular haul or group of hauls.
in 2010, MDX uses an electronic transponder system to charge
the motor vehicles and drivers on its roads a toll based on
the number of axles on the vehicle. If the tractor truck
contains a working electronic transponder device (a
"SunPass transponder"), the entire toll amount for
a five-axle vehicle (three axles for the tractor and two for
the trailer) is automatically deducted from the SunPass
transponder account of the tractor truck's owner. If the
vehicle has no SunPass transponder, then the MDX toll system
relies on a video "Toll by Plate" system, capturing
an image of the vehicle's rear tag. In such cases, MDX
charges the entire per-axle toll to the rear tag's
practice led MDX to charge the Plaintiffs a full five-axle
toll. The Plaintiffs alleged that, starting in 2013, some MDX
systems had the capability to photograph the front tag
belonging to the driver, but MDX made no consistent effort to
identify the driver of the motorized vehicle. The Plaintiffs
asserted that MDX had no authority to impose a toll on their
tractor-towed, non-motorized trailers before a 2012 amendment
to the statutory definition of "motor vehicle," and
thereafter, no authority to impose a toll on the trailers for
the separately-owned and operated tractor trucks pulling the
Plaintiffs sued MDX for declaratory, injunctive and monetary
relief based on allegations that MDX's toll collection
practices, through its video tolling and "Toll by
Plate" system, had unlawfully charged the Plaintiffs
tolls on occasions where third parties were towing their
trailers. The Plaintiffs argued that a trailer owner is not
the owner of the "motor vehicle" incurring the
toll. The Plaintiffs sought to certify a class of all trailer
owners who were charged a toll by MDX because the driver of
the motorized tractor truck did not pay the toll incurred by
operative Second Amended Class Action Complaint asserted that
many of the tractor truck drivers tow the trailers on MDX
roads without paying tolls. These drivers allegedly smudge or
obscure the tractor plate to avoid MDX detection. Plaintiffs
argued that Florida statutes make a driver ultimately
responsible for the entire unpaid toll, not the trailer
owner. See § 316.1001(2)(c), Fla. Stat. (2017).
MDX has been imposing the toll on the trailer tag owners
because the trailer tag was the only captured tag. The
Plaintiffs have no practical way of identifying the drivers
towing their trailers. This makes it impossible for the
Plaintiffs to track down the toll violator to compel
immediate payment of the toll, or to avoid the toll by
providing MDX a timely affidavit with the toll violator's
information, as required in section 316.1001(2)(C)1., and 2.,
Florida Statutes (2017). As a result, the Plaintiffs have
been paying most of the violations even though the tolls are
complaint also sought clarification of the trailer
owners' liability for tolls after a 2012 statutory
amendment. Prior to July 1, 2012, Plaintiffs allege that MDX
had no authority to assess tolls against Tropical
Trailer's non-self-propelled vehicles. This is based on
section 316.110(2)(c), which specifies that the "owner
of the motor vehicle involved in the violation is responsible
and liable for payment . . . ." The pre-2012 version of
section 316.003 defined "motor vehicle" as
"(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." As the trailers were not
self-propelled, they could not be assessed any toll under the
2012, however, the legislature amended section 316.003(21),
defining "motor vehicle" as:
(21) Motor vehicle.--Except when used in s. 316.1001, any
self-propelled vehicle not operated upon rails or guideway,
but not including any bicycle, motorized scooter, electric
personal assistive mobility device, or moped. For
purposes of s. 316.1001, "motor vehicle" has the
same meaning as in s. 320.01(1)(a).
§ 316.003(21), Fla. Stat. (2012) (emphasis added) (Ch.
2012-111, § 2, Laws of Fla., eff. July 1, 2012, to Dec
31, 2012) (currently renumbered as § 316.003(40)).
Section 320.01(1)(a), in turn, provides:
(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 . . . .
2012 amendment to the section 316.003(21) definition arguably
created an ambiguity between the requirements in section
316.1001, requiring payment from the registered owner of the
motor vehicle committing the toll violation, and the
now-undefined responsible party for the toll when there were
several owners involved in a "truck tractor and
semitrailer combination," as is the case in the
Plaintiffs moved for class certification. At the class
certification hearing, Tropical Trailer's co-owner and
general manager, Alberto Vara, testified as the
representative of all nine Plaintiffs. The second and only
other witness was Stephan Andriuk, the Deputy Executive
Director and Director of Toll Operations for MDX.
testified that the two MDX toll violation databases he
examined included over 83, 000 trailer owners who had paid
tolls to MDX between October 14, 2010, and April 2016 as a
result of the video-based billing of trailer license plates.
Vara described the methodology he used to analyze the data in
the databases, and to compile the numbers he used. Although
Vara was not able to state a precise number of other trailer
owners that also owned the tractor truck pulling the trailer
at the time of a citation,  the Plaintiffs themselves owned
some 2, 600 towed units that were always pulled by tractors
owned and operated by other persons or entities. Vara also
testified about the registration holds placed against his
trailers for unpaid tolls accrued years after the trailers
had been sold. He also testified to collection attempts by
MDX, including attempts at arrest, due to outstanding tolls.
Vara described his attempts to lobby for a fairer system of
toll collection even before the beginning of this action. He
testified that MDX billed the trailer owner incorrectly (and
exclusively) rather than apportioning between tractor and
trailer based on the number of axles of the composite vehicle
transiting a set of sensors and cameras. He also described
the difficulties and limited success in trying to pass
through an erroneous tractor charge to the customers of the
Plaintiffs who leased trailers (who might have knowledge the
Plaintiffs did not have regarding the owner or operator of
testified on behalf of MDX. He stated that MDX had installed
many front-facing cameras starting in 2013, and would have
them in all of its toll facilities by August of 2017. He
described the process MDX uses to store front tag pictures
when the vehicle involved has more than two axles. He
clarified on cross-examination that prior to June 30, 2012,
no Toll by Plate fines were issued for front license plates
in truck-trailer combinations. Andriuk also opined that
Florida law permits MDX to bill trailer companies for tolls.
Before this lawsuit, according to Andriuk, MDX settled all
the toll disputes with trailer owners.
the hearing, the trial court granted the motion for class
certification. The court found that the elements of
numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy, under
Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.220(a), were established.
The trial court also found that Rule 1.220(b)(2) was
satisfied because "the party opposing the class has
acted or refused to act on grounds generally applicable to
all the members of the class." The order granting the
motion for certification found that Rule 1.220(b)(3) was
satisfied because the class members' common questions of
law and fact predominate over individual class member claims,
and the class action process is superior to other available
methods for the adjudication of the controversy.
trial court defined two subclasses, rather than the four
proposed by the Plaintiffs, dividing the class members into
those affected before, and those affected after, the July 1,
2012, legislative amendment: "(1) the owners of all
trailers towed on MDX roadways for which MDX used the toll by
plate method of toll imposition from October 14, 2010,
through June 30, 2012," and "(2) the owners of all
trailers on MDX roadways for which MDX used the toll by plate
method of toll imposition since July 1, 2012." MDX
appealed the order granting class certification.
review an order granting class certification for an abuse of
discretion. Sosa v. Safeway Premium Fin. Co., 73
So.3d 91, 98 (Fla. 2011). The burden of proving the factual
elements necessary to certify a class under Florida Rule of
Civil Procedure 1.220 is on the movant. Initially, the
Plaintiffs sought to certify four classes of claimants:
CLASS A - DAMAGES AND INJUNCTIVE RELIEF: All trailer
owners whose trailer license tag was used by MDX between
10/14/10 and 6/30/12 to ...