If your vehicle registration is blocked because of unpaid Harris County Toll Road Authority fines, HCTRA is currently releasing the block if you file bankruptcy. Why?

Because the filing of a bankruptcy case causes an "automatic stay" or a federal court order to go into effect, which prevents among other things, "an act to exercise control over property of the estate," which is prohibited by 11 U.S.C. Sec. 362(a)(3). So they cannot block the registration of your car or truck if you file bankruptcy because of unpaid HCTRA fines.

This does not necessarily mean that the fines are discharged or cancelled in bankruptcy, although our understanding is that is how HCTRA is currently treating them.

Part or all of the toll road fines could be determined to be non-dischargeable in bankruptcy pursuant to a different section of the Bankruptcy Code, 11 U.S.C. Sec. 523(a)(7). See In re Holder, 376 B.R. 802 (S.D. Tex. 2007) (traffic violation surcharges by Texas Department of Public Safety found to be non-dischargeable). So we encourage you to pay your tolls!

J Thomas Black
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Board Certified, Consumer Bankruptcy Law- Texas Board of Legal Specialization