January 21, 2021

Operating a small business is challenging enough these days without the government picking winners and losers. But that’s exactly what city officials did to food truck owners hoping to earn a living in South Padre Island, Texas. This past December, IJ ended that blatant protectionism. 

Until 2016, this Texas tourist destination in the Rio Grande Valley banned mobile food vendors from serving crowds of hungry beachgoers. When the city finally allowed food truck entrepreneurs in, local restaurant owners complained. In response, the City Council allowed them to rewrite the ordinance and add two anticompetitive provisions. The new provisions capped the number of food truck permits at a mere 12 and required applicants to obtain the signature of a local restaurant owner—their brick-and-mortar competitors—to even qualify for one of the permits.

IJ sued, and the district court struck down both the city’s absurd permit cap and the restaurant-permission scheme that allowed local restaurant owners to act as gatekeepers to food truck permits. This victory removes both barriers for food truck owners like IJ clients SurfVive, a local nonprofit that promotes healthy food options, and brothers Anubis and Adonai Avalos, who operate a vegan food truck in nearby Brownsville, Texas, when they are not teaching music. Each stood shoulder to shoulder with IJ through 21 months of intense litigation. 

IJ’s latest victory on behalf of food trucks is also reflective of our strategic approach to creating long-term legal change. This challenge against South Padre Island builds upon our 2015 victory in Patel v. Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation—IJ’s landmark Texas Supreme Court win for eyebrow threading entrepreneur Ash Patel. Patel cemented meaningful judicial review in economic liberty challenges under the Texas Constitution. IJ’s challenge in the Rio Grande Valley not only applies that precedent but also seeks to extend it by establishing that laws serving only to pick winners and losers in the marketplace violate the Texas Constitution.

The city has appealed this decision, so IJ will press on to defend our victory—and the rights of all Texas entrepreneurs—at the court of appeals.

Arif Panju is managing attorney of IJ’s Texas office.

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