Court Gives a Christmas Victory to Atlanta Street Vendors
Arlington, Va.—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 approximately 16 vibrant vending businesses along with dozens of self-supporting private-sector jobs. Thankfully today’s ruling halted the second phase of the program—which included the area around Turner Field, where Plaintiffs Larry Miller and Stanley Hambrick’s vending businesses operate.
In its four-page decision, the court held that Atlanta’s actions are deemed void and without effect because the Georgia Constitution and the Atlanta City Charter do not allow the city to enter into exclusive arrangements like this one. The decision comes just days after Atlanta informed all public-property vendors that they would not be able to renew their licenses at the end of the year unless General Growth Properties gave them permission to enter the vending program.
“Today’s ruling is a resounding victory not only for Larry Miller and Stanley Hambrick, but for all the vendors and entrepreneurs in Atlanta,” said Institute for Justice Attorney Robert Frommer, who argued against the constitutionality of the program before Judge LaGrua on September 12. “The Court’s well-reasoned decision makes clear that Atlanta and other cities in Georgia cannot eliminate small businesses by giving a government-created monopoly to a big business with political connections.”
In holding that Atlanta exceeded its authority when entering into this anti-competitive arrangement, Judge LaGrua stated that, “Because the [city law and contract creating the vending monopoly] grant the exclusive right to occupy and use all public property vending sites in the City, the Court finds that, as a matter of law, the City exceeded the powers granted to it in the [Atlanta City] Charter by creating an unauthorized exclusive franchise. Therefore, . . . the Court declares that the [city law and contract] are void and without effect.”
IJ client and longtime vendor Larry Miller, whose small business has operated outside of Turner Field for over twenty years, said, “Thanks to today’s ruling, a weight has been lifted off of my chest. Now I can focus on selling my t-shirts, jerseys and boiled peanuts instead of worrying that my business will be shuttered forever.”
IJ Senior Attorney Bert Gall said, “The court got it exactly right: Street vending is a classic way for entrepreneurial Americans to climb the economic ladder, but Atlanta’s law knocked the bottom rungs off that ladder by making it virtually impossible for vendors to operate.” He added, “Should the City of Atlanta appeal this decision, we are confident that the trial court’s decision will be affirmed.”
Stanley Hambrick, who, like Larry Miller, employs half a dozen people to help him with his memorabilia stand outside of Turner Field, likewise celebrated today’s ruling. “For decades, I have worked hard to build a business that I hope to turn over to my youngest son someday. Atlanta’s vending monopoly threatened to destroy my family’s business, but today’s victory has given my dreams a new lease on life.”
Today’s victory is another in a series for IJ’s National Street Vending Initiative, a nationwide effort meant to vindicate the right of street vendors to earn an honest living. Last year, El Paso, Texas, repealed its protectionist vending regulations in response to an IJ lawsuit, and the Initiative is litigating challenges to unconstitutional vending laws in Hialeah, Florida, and Chicago, Illinois. In addition, the Institute for Justice has published reports about the anti-competitive laws facing street vendors across the country and how cities can avoid enacting similar laws, both of which are available online at ij.org/vending.