Local attorney: Plaintiffs in lawsuit over high car-tab fees have strong case against Sound Transit

SEATTLE -- What you pay for car tabs is now a legal matter.

In a class-action lawsuit, seven local people are suing Sound Transit and the state of Washington over high car tabs.

They want $240 million to be reimbursed to the public and they want Sound Transit to stop the way they are calculating car tabs.

Years of infighting in the Legislature to lower fees went nowhere because of partisan divide. Lawmakers like Steve O’Ban and Phil Fortunato have been vocally opposed to the way car tabs are calculated.

Fortunato says he’s been looking into bringing a legal case since April and started recruiting attorneys to take the case since then, including attorney Joel Ard.

“For us, we are kind of a constitutional law nerd, it’s a very clear case,” Ard said.

Ard says Sound Transit is using and inflated valuation to calculate car tabs. They are using MSRP to come up with the fees. Ard says because of the increase in valuation, Sound Transit has collected $240 million in a little over a year.

Opponents have suggested that Sound Transit use Kelley Blue Book values, which, they say, are more fair.

But griping about costly tabs won’t win a court case.

Ard says what will win him the case is what’s missing from a specific paragraph in a legislative bill.

“When you change an existing law, you spell (out what) the existing law is and how it’s going to change,” Ard said.

When the Legislature made ST3 (Sound Transit 3 -- light rail expansion) into law back in 2015, the legislative bill stated it would comply with a 1996 law. But Ard says it doesn’t spell out exactly what that means.

“It doesn’t identify the statute, it doesn’t spell out the devaluation schedule,” Ard said.

Ard says that’s why many in the public, even lawmakers, were surprised when car tabs tripled for many drivers.

Sound Transit released this statement.

“The lawsuit seeks to eliminate Sound Transit’s ability to collect voter-approved MVET revenues. It challenges provisions of extensively debated legislation under which collections currently use the same vehicle depreciation schedule that has been in place for two decades. We are confident in the validity of the law and will be reviewing and responding to the lawsuit. Since voters’ decisive approval of ST3 highway congestion has only worsened, and it will continue to worsen. Any reduction of MVET revenues would delay or kill voter-approved transit alternatives,” Sound Transit Spokesperson Geoff Patrick said,

We asked Ard how he felt about putting light rail expansion in jeopardy.

“Those are policy outcomes that are very important but when you try to achieve those policy outcomes you have to do it in a way that’s consistent with the constitution, you need to inform the public very clearly about what policy decisions you are making,” Ard said.