El Paso Mobile Food Vendors File Major Federal Lawsuit Against City

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · January 25, 2011

Austin, Texas—Should the city of El Paso, Texas, be allowed to turn itself into a No-Vending Zone in order to protect brick-and-mortar restaurants from competition?

That is the question to be answered by a major federal lawsuit filed today by the Institute for Justice—a national civil liberties law firm—and El Paso mobile food vendors. The attorneys and food vendors will be available for interviews immediately following today’s 10:30am news conference. The lawsuit launches the Institute’s National Street Vending Initiative, a nationwide litigation and activism effort to vindicate the right of street vendors to earn an honest living.

Practiced since ancient times, street vending is more popular than ever. The Economist magazine predicted that this year “some of the best food Americans eat may come from a food truck.” Vendors are the darlings of many food critics, and they even have their own reality show on the Food Network.

But El Paso, Texas, has recently made it illegal for mobile food vendors to operate within 1,000-feet of any restaurant, convenience store, or grocer. The city even prohibits vendors from parking to await customers, which forces vendors to constantly drive around town until a customer successfully flags them down–and then be on the move again as soon as the customer walks away.

Thus, while people across the country embrace mobile vendors for the vitality and creativity they bring to a local restaurant scene, El Paso has decided to threaten vendors with thousands of dollars in fines and effectively run them out of town. This anti-competitive scheme is illegal because vending entrepreneurs have a constitutional right to earn an honest living free from unreasonable regulations.

“These laws only serve one purpose, and that’s to protect favored businesses from competition,” said Matt Miller, the executive director of the IJ Texas Chapter. Miller, lead counsel in the lawsuit , continued, “But naked protectionism is not a constitutional use of government power. That’s why vending entrepreneurs teamed up with the Institute for Justice to sue El Paso today in federal court.”

“I came to El Paso in 1981 to have a better life for my son and myself,” said Maria Robledo, an El Paso mobile food vendor and plaintiff in today’s lawsuit. “We should have a chance to make a living.”

The Institute for Justice is the nation’s leading legal advocate for the rights of entrepreneurs. For more on this lawsuit and the IJ-Texas Chapter, click here.

For more on this case visit www.ij.org/txvending.