Constitutional Challenge to Indiana Oversize-Overweight Civil Penalties

In mid-2020, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Inc., began receiving calls from members stating that they had each received notice in the mail of a maximum $5,000 civil oversize/overweight fine.  The fines were $5,000 across the board, no matter how serious the violation, no matter whether preventing the violation was in the motor carrier’s control, even though some of the violations were as much as two years old, and even though some of the motor carriers had already paid a criminal fine in court. For six of the eight motor carriers who challenged their civil fine, the oversize/overweight violation was their first in Indiana.

Represented by the Cullen Law Firm PLLC, eight motor carriers filed legal protests of the $5,000 state civil overweight fines issued by the Indiana Department of Revenue.

The protestors argued that the original fines—$5,000 in each case—the maximum permitted by law—violated the excessive fines clause of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because they were disproportionate to the underlying offenses, following Timbs v. Indiana, 586 U.S. __, 139 S. Ct. 682 (2019). In the DOR’s Letters of Findings, the Department reduced the penalties for 7 of the 8 motor carriers, but it did not consider the constitutional arguments.

All eight protestors appealed the Department’s decisions on their protests to the Indiana Tax Court to obtain judicial review of the constitutional arguments. We believe these were the first oversize/overweight protests ever appealed to the tax court.

The Indiana Tax Court’s docket indicates that these appeals were settled on or before May 6, 2022.  On May 27, 2022, the Indiana Department of Revenue posted new specific guidance on certain defenses and other mitigating factors that the Indiana Department of Revenue may consider during settlement negotiations or as part of a protest of civil penalties imposed on motor carriers for oversize or overweight violations. See https://www.in.gov/dor/motor-carrier-services/oversizeoverweight-osw/osw-notice/.

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