Joel Schulman is not on the North Texas Tollway Authority's list of top toll scofflaws. In fact, he lives in Bossier City, Louisiana, three hours east of the nearest NTTA-controlled roadway.
That hasn't stopped the agency from sending notice after notice demanding payment for tolls racked up by a certain 2010 BMW he doesn't own. It all amounts to harassment, Schulman says, and he wants it to stop. He filed a lawsuit on Tuesday asking a Dallas County judge to order the NTTA to cut it out, absolve him of his debts, and give him $250,000 for their "malice, gross negligence and total disregard of his rights."
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So how did the NTTA decide that Schulman owes money for tolls racked up by a car he doesn't own, a fact of which, according to the lawsuit, he reminded them on several occasions by certified mail? Possibly because it belongs to his wife, Cheris Theresa Schulman, who he is also suing for damages. He claims in the lawsuit that she has been in sole possession of the BMW during the period in question and knew or should have known driving on the tollway without paying is illegal and that the tolls would be charged to her husband.
Unsurprisingly, the couple isn't destined to remain husband-and-wife for long. He lives in Louisiana, she in Rowlett, and he filed divorce papers just last week. I couldn't find a number for Cheris Schulman. I have an email out to NTTA spokesman Michael Rey and will update when I hear back.
Update at 12:53 p.m.: Rey just passed along a response from the NTTA end, essentially saying that the BMW is registered in Schulman's name and his name only. They've asked him to provide documentation indicating otherwise but have never received anything. The full statement is below.
Records show Joel Schulman as the registered owner of the vehicle at a Louisiana address. That is why he is receiving the invoices. Per Texas Transportation Code 366.178, the registered owner is responsible for the tolls incurred by their vehicles and NTTA is required to invoice the registered owner of a vehicle. In past conversations between the NTTA Customer Service Center and Mr. Schulman, we have asked him to provide documentation that he was not the registered owner of the vehicle at the time the vehicle accessed NTTA highways without paying the tolls. He has yet to provide that documentation.
In his complaint, Mr. Schulman alleges that his wife is a co-registered owner of the vehicle. He has yet to provide proof of that fact and NTTA is trying to independently verify whether that allegation is true. If Mrs. Schulman is also a registered owner of the vehicle she may be held responsible for the unpaid tolls and NTTA will proceed accordingly.
This incident underscores the importance of updating vehicle registration information. Registered owners should take care to ensure that those persons who use the registered owner's vehicles on NTTA highways must pay tolls or the registered owner will be held responsible for unpaid tolls.