Atlanta Vendors Ask Court for Immediate Action

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · August 29, 2013

Arlington, Va.
—This morning, Atlanta vendor Stanley Hambrick petitioned the Fulton County Superior Court to immediately order city officials to follow the law by issuing vending permits to him and other qualified vendors.

The petition (known as a writ of mandamus) is necessary because Mayor Kasim Reed has ignored two separate rulings by the court that make clear Atlanta’s entrepreneurs have a right to vend on public property, just as they have done for decades. Instead, Mayor Reed and other city officials have responded to the court’s rulings by implementing a scorched-earth policy, illegally shutting down all public-property street vending and threatening vendors with fines and even jail.


“Atlanta’s street vendors need the court to act now because time is of the essence,” said Institute for Justice Attorney Robert Frommer. “Mayor Reed and his administration have willfully and illegally defied the court’s order for five months now. There’s only a few weeks left in the baseball season, so if the vendors are going to be able to earn a living at all this year, they need immediate action.”

In 2009, then-Mayor Shirley Franklin signed an exclusive twenty-year contract that handed over all street vending in Atlanta to a multi-billion-dollar Chicago company, General Growth Properties (GGP). Stanley and another vendor, Larry Miller, joined with the Institute for Justice and filed suit to strike down the vending scheme, which would have thrown them out of work—or forced them to pay thousands of dollars to GGP. In December 2012, Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua of the Fulton County Superior Court struck down the scheme and the law that authorized it.

That victory should have let Atlanta’s vendors renew their permits and keep working. But rather than accept the court’s ruling, Mayor Reed illegally shut down all street vending citywide, throwing dozens of vendors out of work right before the Braves’ opening day and the NCAA Final Four. Mayor Reed’s crackdown has kept Stanley and other street vendors from working a single day this baseball season.

After negotiating with Mayor Reed proved fruitless, Stanley asked the court to clarify its ruling. And on July 2, the Fulton County Superior Court did just that, making clear that its December 2012 order had reinstated the pre-existing vending law that Larry, Stanley and other Atlanta vendors had worked under for years. The ruling came just one day after vendors and civil-rights activists engaged in a widely publicized protest on the steps of city hall.

But despite the court twice ruling in the vendors’ favor, Mayor Reed still continues to deny them their right to earn an honest living. He even worked behind the scenes to kill a modest temporary bill that would have let the street vendors return to work through years’ end, until a permanent vending ordinance could be passed. Absent the court’s help, Stanley Hambrick and Atlanta’s other vendors will lose the chance to vend this entire year.

“For months my fellow street vendors and I have suffered because city officials refuse to follow the law,” said IJ client Stanley Hambrick. “People are going without food on their tables and roofs over their heads because Mayor Reed wanted to take his ball and go home. We need the freedom to earn a living, and we need it now.”