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Drivers winning in court against Express Lanes operator

The company behind the Virginia Express Lanes was back in court on Monday, May 18, 2015. (WTOP/Andrew Mollenbeck)

FAIRFAX, Va. — Six drivers saw their unpaid-toll cases dismissed in Fairfax County General District Court on Monday, while the final ruling on another landmark case has been delayed due to a last-minute motion.

Circuit Court Judge Dennis J. Smith ruled in April that Express Lanes operator Transurban must sue drivers for unpaid tolls within a year. Toni Cooley, Jim Diller and Stuart Holmes all won their cases with the decision, and the fallout has been felt ever since — six cases were dismissed on Monday because Transurban waited too long to sue, and more will likely be dismissed in the coming weeks.

But Lisa Marie Comras’ case is not one of them yet. District Court Judge Richard Gardiner recently vacated an $11,000 judgment for Transurban against Comras, ruling that Transurban did not use its proper corporate name when it sued her. The judgment last summer consisted mainly of administrative fees and civil penalties; Comras’ license and registration was suspended when she couldn’t pay the fines.

Gardiner was supposed to formally dismiss the case against Comras on Monday, but it was delayed after Transurban filed a motion to reconsider the decision on Friday.

Transurban fixed the corporate-name problem March 3 and says it can cure old cases on an as-needed basis. But lawyer David Bernhard argues that any case before that date must be voided.  He argues that cure, or legal fix, cannot apply to any cases before March 3, such as Comras’.

“If Judge Gardiner continues this line of legal decision making, then all judgements to March 3, 2015, can be voided, vacated and dismissed.  Most of the judgments rendered by the court before March 3, 2015 are barred by statute of limitations anyways.  So even if the judge were to reopen the cases, as opposed to dismissing them, they would have to be dismissed on the statute of limitations based on the Cooley ruling,” says Bernhard. He hopes the ruling will help countless others between 2013 and 2015 to reopen and get their old judgments reversed.

So if you are one of those impacted, what should you do?

“Go to the counter at the Fairfax County General District Court and file a motion to vacate their prior judgment and dismiss it on the grounds that there was no jurisdiction prior to March 3, 2015,” says Bernhard.

Gardiner told both sides he would review the Transurban motion to reconsider, then rule on it and the entire case in the coming weeks.

“While we await the decision, our focus continues to be on educating customers about the proper use of E-ZPass on the Express Lanes to avoid unpaid tolls altogether.  It’s easy to avoid unpaid tolls by traveling with an E-ZPass that is properly mounted, ensuring there are funds in the E-ZPass account and linking the vehicle’s license plate to the E-ZPass account,” writes Transurban spokesman Mike McGurk.

“For those who make a mistake, every traveler has an opportunity to pay a missed toll online with a $1.50 fee per unpaid trip within the first five days of travel.  As part of our First-Time Forgiveness program, we will waive invoice fees if the traveler contacts us. We remind any driver who receives an invoice to contact us as soon possible,” he adds.

Transurban has already said it plans to appeal any final ruling to the Circuit Court.

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