A North Carolina court ruling may favorably impact dozens of trucking companies hauling oversized and overweight freight through the state. Parker Poe won the case for a transportation client in Wake County Superior Court.
On January 31, 2008, the court held that the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, Division of State Highway Patrol (DSHP), improperly invalidated a special permit issued to a transportation company specializing in hauling overweight loads. The court ordered that DSHP refund the penalty of $24,492.03 assessed against the company, plus interest.
DSHP originally cited the company for failure to have the proper number of certified escorts accompanying its rig, using that operational violation to invalidate the company’s special permit and assessing an overweight fine. The judge ruled that DSHP has no authority to invalidate a special permit issued by the North Carolina Department of Transportation and that an operational violation does not negate the weight allowance stated on the special permit.
In this case, the company had a valid special permit that allowed a gross weight of up to 196,000 lbs. The company, however, failed to engage a second escort for the portion of its trip through North Carolina. When the rig stopped at the Hendersonville weigh station, the company was cited for failure to have a second escort and fined $500 as allowed by law. Despite weighing nearly 15,000 lbs. less than the weight allowance on its special permit, the company was fined the additional $24,492.03 for being over the license weight of 80,000 lbs.
At the hearing, DSHP acknowledged that it has no authority to invalidate special permits, but argued that failure to comply with the escort requirement caused the special permit to be temporarily suspended, thus allowing it to assess a statutory overweight penalty based on the license weight of 80,000 lbs. The judge disagreed, ruling that an operational violation does not negate the weight allowance stated on a special permit.
DSHP regularly issues overweight citations based on an operational violation of an otherwise valid permit. In 2006 alone, more than 100 companies faced stiff penalties despite having a special permit and regardless of whether or not they were within the weight allowance. In addition to the penalties, DSHP requires that companies make arrangements to pay the penalty before being allowed to continue on their trip. This has resulted in delays of up to two days, seriously impacting the companies’ ability to meet their customers’ transportation schedules.
The judge’s ruling is one of the first to address DSHP’s practice of invalidating special permits based on operational violations. The DSHP is likely to appeal the ruling to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
Parker Poe currently represents six other trucking companies that were fined for similar escort and weight violations.