NSVI- Atlanta Vending


The Ongoing Struggle Against a Lawless Mayor

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On February 14th, Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua of the Fulton County Superior Court declined to find Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed in criminal contempt for failing to comply with her previous orders and issue vending permits to Stanley Hambrick, Larry Miller, and dozens of other vendors who have been suffering and out of work for months.  The Institute for Justice has appealed the case and the injunction to the Georgia Supreme Court for review this Spring. 

Last November, the Atlanta City Council enacted a complete rewrite of its vending law.  The new legislation, hurried through minutes before a court hearing, was passed to protect Mayor Kasim Reed from facing any legal consequences due to his failure to comply with a court order that mandated that he issue vending permits under an earlier version of the law.  Moreover, Atlanta’s new law obliterates vending at Turner Field, where IJ clients Larry Miller and Stanley Hambrick worked for over twenty years, and forces would-be vendors to spend thousands of dollars before they can even try to start climbing the economic ladder.

Had Mayor Reed complied with his legal obligations, Larry, Stanley and Atlanta’s other vendors would have been able to apply for and receive vending permits for their old locations under the old vending law.  To prevent Mayor Reed from benefiting from his lawless behavior, the Institute for Justice on December 3rd asked the Fulton County Superior Court to find Mayor Reed guilty of criminal contempt and to issue an injunction allowing vendors to immediately return to their traditional vending locations through October 2014.  




Juana Gutierrez eyebrow threading

IJ clients Stanley Hambrick (above) and Larry Miller (below) are two well-known vendors outside Turner Field.

IJ Challenges Atlanta, Georgia’s Unconstitutional Vending Monopoly in Miller v. City of Atlanta
For generations, street vending has been a classic way to succeed with only a strong work ethic and a desire to succeed.  It is a path that cities should encourage, particularly in these tough economic times.  But rather than fostering entrepreneurship and opportunity, Atlanta is doing its best to smother it.

Larry Miller and Stanley Hambrick own two well-known vending businesses outside the Atlanta Braves stadium.  Their businesses create jobs, offer inexpensive snacks and souvenirs to visitors, and make the sidewalks safer by keeping an eye out for fans who need help.  But two years ago, Atlanta handed over all public-property vending to a single company—the first program of its kind in the country.  Now that company wants to throw Larry and Stanley out of the spots they have worked for decades to build kiosks that rent for almost $20,000 a year.  If it does so, Larry and Stanley’s businesses will be destroyed.

Unfortunately, many American cities put up roadblocks that keep would-be vendors from climbing that ladder.  In Streets of Dreams, the Institute for Justice reviewed vending laws in America’s 50 largest cities.  It found that of those 50 cities, 45 have one or more anticompetitive restrictions on vending.  Atlanta has some of the most onerous burdens in the country, and the monopoly Atlanta has created has cost vendors their jobs and threatens to kill vending as a way for ordinary Atlantans to succeed.

To protect the economic liberty of all Georgians, Larry and Stanley have joined with the Institute for Justice to challenge Atlanta’s vending monopoly. This lawsuit, filed on July 28, 2011 in the Superior Court for Fulton County, Georgia, is the second case in the Institute’s National Street Vending Initiative.  It argues that Atlanta lacks the power to grant an exclusive vending franchise and that its actions violate the Georgia constitution.  A victory will not only free Atlanta’s vending community; it will make other cities think twice before entering into similarly anticompetitive arrangements.

To find press releases and legal documents related to this case go to www.ij.org/atlanta-vending. 



A timeline of the years-long battle between street vendors and the city of Atlanta:

The city of Atlanta grants a private company a monopoly on street vending—the first of its kind in the United States.  Before the monopoly was established, these entrepreneurs only had to pay $250 a year for a vending location.  But with this monopoly, vendors were forced to rent out a kiosk, which cost between $500 and $1,600 a month.  So vendors faced annual rents of almost $20,000, crippling their livelihoods.  Soon after, 16 vendors lost their jobs.   

July 2011
Larry Miller and Stanley Hambrick, two vendors who’ve sold snacks and Braves apparel near the baseball stadium for more than 20 years, join forces with the Institute for Justice to sue the city.  According to Stanley, this lawsuit is about “fighting for my American Dream:”

“I’ve been able to put my kids through college working here and being successful.  I employ six people and they are depending on me, and I’m depending on them now.  I’m fighting for my American Dream.   And I’m fighting for the rights of other vendors and small businesses.”

December 21, 2012
With only days before their vending locations would disappear, Stanley, Larry, and the rest of Atlanta’s vendors score a huge win at the Fulton County Superior Court.  Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua strikes down the monopoly, ruling that Atlanta’s charter does not grant the city “the power to create an exclusive franchise.”  Therefore, “the City exceeded the powers granted to it in the Charter by creating an unauthorized exclusive franchise,” rendering the city’s monopolistic contract “void and without effect.”  (Click here to read the full decision.)

March 2013
Mayor Kasim Reed begins a crackdown on vendors and refuses to renew vending licenses.  For the first time in 25 years, Larry couldn’t sell on Opening Day in front of Turner Field.  Vendors were also forbidden to operate in front of the Georgia Dome during the Final Four—a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  The Mayor argues the crackdown is justified by claiming that when the monopoly was struck down, all of Atlanta’s vending regulations were nullified as well.  But Judge LaGrua’s decision clearly states “the City may continue its other licensing and regulatory operations.” 

Now president of the Atlanta Vendors Association, Larry rebuked the Mayor in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution op-ed:

“The city is perfectly free to let street vendors operate. Atlanta officials shouldn’t continue to claim otherwise. The city could stop its crackdown immediately if it wanted to…I am not a criminal. I am not asking for a handout. All I ask is that Atlanta let me run my business in peace.”

July 1, 2013
The Institute for Justice and over 75 vendors rally in front of City Hall to protest the crackdown and take back their economic freedom. 

July 2, 2013
The same judge who struck down Atlanta’s “exclusive franchise” issues a clarification on that December 2012 ruling. Judge LaGrua lambasts the “frequent mischaracterizations” of her decision, declaring, “It is the opinion of this Court that the original order is subject to only one reasonable interpretation:” the ordinance and contract that established the vending monopoly are “all declared void and without effect” and should be treated “as if it had never been passed,” meaning the city’s vending laws are restored to their pre-2009 status which allows honest, hard-working entrepreneurs like Larry and Stanley to return to their livelihoods.  (Click here to read the full clarification.) 

August 19, 2013
At the Mayor’s request, the City Council voted 12-2 to table a temporary vending ordinance.  If it had passed, that ordinance would have allowed dozens of entrepreneurs to continue to work and support their families.

October 8, 2013
Judge LaGrua rules for the third time that the City of Atlanta must issue vending permits under the original ordinance. Once again, the Mayor refuses.  Shortly thereafter, landscaping is added to the traditional vending spots at Five Points rendering them unusable for vendors.  

November 4, 2013
The City Council rushes through a new vending process minutes before a court hearing.  This saves Mayor Reed from being found in civil contempt.

December 4, 2013
The Institute for Justice files a motion asking that Mayor Reed be held in criminal contempt of court and asking for an immediate injunction allowing vendors to return to their traditional vending locations through October 2014.

February 14, 2013
Judge LaGrua denies Stanley's request that Mayor Reed and Police Chief George Turner be found guilty of criminal contempt for flagrantly ignoring the October 2013 order to allow street vendors to return to work. The court also denies the request that other Atlanta vendors be granted vending permits to operate the following year. 

IJ has appealed Judge LaGrua's decision to the Georgia Supreme Court and asked that it protect the integrity of the judicial process by holding Mayor Reed in contempt for his defiance of the lower court's unambiguous order. Mayor Reed's refusal to let the Turner Field vendors return to work continues even as the public grows increasingly skeptical and Atlanta's vendors grow more desperate. 


On April 6th, 2013, vendors held a protest to bring attention to their plight.

Atlanta Takes “Scorched Earth” Policy Against Local Vendors
City Falsely Claims Crackdown Is Required by Court Ruling Striking Down Monopoly

After vendors scored a major state court victory in December, which threw out the city’s sweetheart deal that forced all vendors to operate with one out-of-state company the city granted a monopoly over street vending, the city’s new response is to put all vendors who operate in public spaces out of business. This barred them from selling near Turner Field before Major League Baseball Opening Day and the Georgia Dome, which hosted the NCAA’s Final Four basketball tournament—key opportunities for street vendors to sell their wares.

Bizarrely, the city claims that its crackdown is required by the court’s order in December striking down the city-granted monopoly. But nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing in that order in any way prevents street vending or requires the city to stop it in any way. Indeed, contrary to the city’s claim that the order prevents them from renewing vendors’ licenses, the court’s order specifically states (with emphasis added in italics:) “This ruling is limited to any decision made pursuant to [the city council ordinance and resolution creating the monopoly and the contract with the private company] and the city may continue its other licensing and regulatory operations.”

Read more in the Atlanta Journal Constitution 

Court Gives a Christmas Victory to Atlanta Street Vendors
Down Government-Granted Vending Monopoly

Today, Christmas came early for Atlanta vendors Larry Miller and Stanley Hambrick when Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua of the Fulton County Superior Court struck down the city’s Public Vending Management Program. In 2011, the two longtime street vendors who operate outside of Turner Field filed suit to challenge Atlanta’s vending regulations that had already put numerous vendors out of business.

In 2009, Atlanta handed over all vending on public property to General Growth Properties—the first time any American city has set up such a centralized scheme for vending. As the monopolist has moved into areas of the city, Atlanta officials have revoked the existing vendors’ permits and forced them to leave. The first phase of the program eliminated . . .

Read the rest of this Atlanta vending story



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