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Illinois Supreme Court Upholds Chicago’s Anti-Competitive Food Truck Rules

Ruling Means Fewer Options for Consumers and Fewer Opportunities for Food Industry Entrepreneurs

Arlington, Va.—Today, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld two provisions of Chicago’s law that block food trucks from parking within 200 feet of restaurants and require they install GPS devices so city officials may track their every move. The Institute for Justice challenged these two provisions in 2012 on behalf of Laura Pekarik, owner of the Cupcakes for Courage food truck. With the Court’s ruling, the Second City’s food-truck industry, which has shrunk by over 40 percent in the past six years, will continue to sputter out.  Not only does Chicago’s rule shut a low-cost, common path into the restaurant industry for the city’s entrepreneurs, it forces everyday Chicagoans to continue to suffer from fewer choices and higher prices.

“Today’s ruling doesn’t protect public safety; instead, it protects brick-and-mortar restaurants from honest competition,” explained IJ Senior Attorney Robert Frommer, who was lead counsel on the case. “A hallmark of America is robust competition, not hardball politics and backroom deals. Holding that Chicago may use public power for private gain breaks with over a century of precedent and weakens the constitutional rights of not just food truckers, but all Illinoisans.”

In 2012, Chicago revised its food truck laws to allow cooking on board, bringing it up to speed with the vast majority of cities across the nation. But unlike America’s other ten largest cities, Chicago continued its anti-competitive “200-foot rule,” which research shows makes it nearly impossible for food trucks to operate in the North Loop—the prime location for food trucks serving lunch. That same analysis revealed that food trucks can legally park and operate on just 3 percent of the district’s curbs. And if a food truck gets too close, it can be fined up to $2,000—over 10 times higher than for parking in front of a fire hydrant.

“Today’s decision is heartbreaking, not so much for me, but for those entrepreneurs who are just getting started,” said Pekarik. “Chicago admitted its 200-foot rule enriched restauranteurs by chasing off their mobile competitors. I hoped the Illinois Supreme Court would reject this kind of government picks the winners and losers approach, where success turns not on how good your product is, but on who you know at City Hall. Justice did not prevail today.”

Worse yet, to enforce the 200-foot rule, Chicago became one of only a handful of cities nationwide to force food trucks to install GPS tracking devices that transmit a truck’s location every five minutes. The law’s plain language lets anyone ask for and receive access to this sensitive data.

“The Illinois Supreme Court’s decision says that food trucks have to submit to a government search as a condition of operating,” said Frommer. “This is a grave threat to all Illinoisans, not just those who run food trucks. People are being forced to choose between their right to privacy and their right to work.”

Frommer concluded, “Today’s ruling is a sharp break from decades of Illinois precedent that protects the right to earn an honest living subject only to reasonable government regulation. There is nothing reasonable about the government prohibiting you from operating near your competitors, or tracking you like a criminal out of fear you may sell delicious food to willing customers. The Illinois Supreme Court’s failure to stand up to the powerful on behalf of ordinary folks, like Laura and other food truckers in the state, does a profound disservice to the constitutional rights of everyone in the state.”

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