Judge tosses lawsuit by NY-NJ ports' largest terminal operator that claimed excessive fees

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the operator of the largest marine container terminal in the New York area against the Port of New York and New Jersey.

The ruling rejected claims made in 2012 by Maher Terminals that the Port Authority charged excessive and discriminatory fees. The company had sought restitution and damages.

Maher Terminals has operated at the Elizabeth-Port Authority Marine Terminal for more than 60 years and leases a 445-acre terminal from the Port Authority that it uses to load and unload cargo containers. The company paid about $22 million in basic rent in 2012, according to court documents.

Since 2008, the Port Authority has also charged Maher a fee based on the number of containers it loads and unloads. The company loaded or unloaded between 800,000 and about 1 million containers per year from 2008 to 2010, according to court documents.

Maher's lawsuit accused the Port Authority of violating a section of the Constitution, the tonnage clause, that prohibits a state from assessing charges on vessels entering, trading in or lying in port.

In his opinion, U.S. District Judge Kevin McNulty in Newark rejected Maher's claim that by charging Maher the fees, the Port Authority was indirectly charging the vessels in violation of the tonnage clause, since the cost would be passed on to the vessels.

"Not all charges and fees are prohibited by the tonnage clause," McNulty wrote. "Although it prohibits any duty on a vessel, it does not prohibit a state from taxing or assessing fees on any and all businesses related to shipping."

McNulty also rejected the company's assertion that the Port Authority improperly assessed fees that were used to help pay for the cost of harbor improvements, specifically the estimated $2 billion project to deepen navigational channels in and around the port system.

A message left at the company's headquarters wasn't returned Wednesday, and attorneys representing Maher Terminals didn't respond to email requests for comment. Through a spokesman, the Port Authority didn't comment on the ruling.