Victory for Atlanta Vendors

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · July 2, 2013

Arlington, Va.
—Late yesterday afternoon, Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua of the Fulton County Superior Court ruled that her December 2012 order, which struck down the city’s Public Vending Management Program, reinstated the pre-existing vending law that Larry Miller, Stanley Hambrick and other Atlanta vendors had worked under for years. The ruling comes just one day after vendors and civil-rights activists engaged in a widely publicized protest on the steps of city hall.


“This ruling is a resounding victory for Atlanta’s street vendors,” said Institute for Justice Attorney Robert Frommer, lead counsel on the lawsuit. “The Court’s order makes clear that Atlanta has a street-vending law on the books, despite Mayor Reed’s claims to the contrary. With this issue resolved, city officials need to let Atlanta’s street vendors return to work immediately.”


In 2009, then-Mayor Shirley Franklin signed an exclusive twenty-year contract that handed over all public-property vending in Atlanta to General Growth Properties (GGP). To enter into that contract, the City Council passed a vending ordinance the year before. Section 1 of that ordinance “repeal[ed] the text of” the earlier vending law, while Section 2 “adopt[ed] a new” vending scheme. When the Court held the ordinance to be void and without effect, it meant that the entire ordinance—including the repeal of the earlier law—should be treated as if had never been enacted.

Rather than accept the Court’s ruling, Mayor Kasim Reed and his administration chose to implement a scorched-earth policy against Atlanta’s street vendors. In late March, Mayor Reed shut down all vending on public land citywide, throwing dozens of vendors out of work right before the Braves opening day and the NCAA’s Final Four. To deflect blame for his actions, Mayor Reed claimed that the Court’s order forced the crackdown because it had left Atlanta with no vending law. Yesterday’s ruling, however, clarifies that the Mayor was wrong.

Judge LaGrua’s ruling yesterday calls out the city’s “frequent mischaracterizations” of her December order. It continues, “the [ordinance and contract creating the vending monopoly] were all declared void and without effect.” Lawyers for Mayor Reed asserted at a hearing last Thursday that the Judge’s order repealed only the part of the ordinance that adopted the new vending law, but not the part that repealed the previous law. The language of the order, though, repudiates that assertion by indicating that the entire ordinance was “wholly void” and should be treated “as if it had never been passed.”

“For months my fellow street vendors and I have suffered because the city couldn’t read a simple four-page order,” said IJ client and Atlanta Vending Association president Larry Miller, whose small business operated outside of Turner Field for over twenty years. “People are going without food on their tables and roofs over their heads because Mayor Reed wanted to take his ball and go home. Even worse, Mayor Reed tried blame his actions on us vendors. The city needs to stop playing games with our rights. Mayor Reed, let us vend.”

Yesterday’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. Two years ago, 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, Fla., and Chicago, Ill. In addition, the Institute for Justice has published reports about the anti-competitive laws faced by street vendors across the country and how cities can avoid enacting similar laws, both of which are available online at