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Motorist used toll road without paying

Transurban, which administers the electronic collection of tolls, proved beyond a reasonable doubt that it could not collect tolls from defendant Barnett on five occasions.

Barnett’s challenge to five summonses issued as a result, based on the inference that she would have been unable to obtain Virginia license plates for her vehicle if she were not a Virginia resident, is not well-taken.

Facts

Transurban asserts that it photographed a white Mercedes Benz with Virginia license plates passing an electronic toll five different times, beginning on May 18, 2018. The other dates were May 29, and June 20, 27 and 29, 2018. The toll is collected from an E-ZPass account associated with the vehicle if the account is funded. If there is no account or the account is not funded, an invoice is sent to the name and address of the vehicle’s registered owner.

The Mercedes was registered to Barnett at an address in Maryland. Five invoices were sent. None were returned as undeliverable. When payment was not forthcoming, Transurban issued summonses in each case.

Barnett testified that she moved from Maryland to Virginia in 2018 and produced a lease with a March 1, 2018, start date. She also produced an E-ZPass account history for a white Mercedes with a June 14, 2019 activity date. The report does not list her name or a vehicle license number.

She also produced a customer account report referencing her name and her Virginia address. The report indicates the account was opened on May 3, 2018, w the last activity on July 22, 2019. The account had a negative balance.

Analysis

Barnett argues that she had an E-ZPass account that should have automatically paid her tolls. She argues that she was living in Virginia since March 2018, and not in Maryland, where Transurban sent the invoices. “Inferentially, she argues that her Virginia license plates proved the DMV registered her move from Maryland to Virginia – otherwise, she would have had Maryland license plates.”

But Barnett’s own documentary evidence shows her E-ZPass account was underfunded, and she did not testify otherwise. Further, she never testified that she changed her address once she moved from Maryland. “Her point is that she could have only obtained Virginia license plates if she lived in Virginia.”

This last point is the crux of the case. A review of the Virginia Code shows that “certain nonresidents may register a vehicle in Virginia. Thus, in the present case, Barnett could have had her vehicle registered in Virginia while her mailing address was in Maryland – exactly as the DMV reported to Transurban. … Accordingly, the fact that the photographs of her vehicle … reflect a Virginia license plate does nothing to prove Barnett’s DMV registered address.”

Transurban proved that Barnett’s vehicle was driven “on the 495 Express Lanes” without paying through an E-ZPass account, and that Barnett did not pay the invoices sent to her address registered with the DMV. This establishes Transurban’s prima facie case.

“Barnett’s reply that she had a funded E-ZPass account is contradicted by her own evidence that showed a negative balance.” DVM records show that her registered address as of May 18, 2018, the date of the first violation, was in Maryland. She did not contradict this when testifying.

Barnett is in violation of all five summonses.

Commonwealth v. Barnett. MI-2019-1017, Nov. 15, 2019; Fairfax Cir. Ct. (Oblon). R.J. Carey for Transurban, Niesha S. Barnett, self-represented. VLW 019-8-109, 6 pp.

VLW 019-8-109

Virginia Lawyers Weekly