Judge Denies Fort Pierce’s Motion to Dismiss Food Trucks’ Lawsuit

Institute for Justice · January 3, 2019

Today, Florida food truck owners are one step closer to vindicating their right to economic liberty after a judge denied the city of Fort Pierce’s motion to dismiss a challenge to its law requiring that food trucks be over 500 feet from any restaurant to legally operate.

This ruling by Judge Lawrence Mirman of the 19th Judicial Circuit in and for St. Lucie County, Florida, is part of a legal challenge launched by food truck owners Benny Diaz and Brian Peffer alongside the Institute for Justice (IJ) in early December. Diaz and Peffer allege that Fort Pierce’s law banning food trucks from competing with restaurants violates their right to earn an honest living and makes it nearly impossible to do business in the city.

“The Florida Constitution prohibits the government from picking winners and losers in the marketplace. That choice belongs to customers,” IJ Florida Office Managing  Attorney Justin Pearson said. “Fort Pierce has taken that choice away from its citizens, and we look forward to vindicating the constitutional rights of our clients and all other food truck owners to offer those choices.”

When the city passed the ban in 2014, it admitted that the reason for the ban was to protect restaurants from competition. Then-Commissioner Edward Becht said the ban existed because allowing food trucks to compete for business would “hurt the brick-and-mortar businesses.”

Benny Diaz, owner of the Taco Trap food truck, welcomed the denial of the city’s motion to dismiss his lawsuit.

“I hope that the court soon realizes that there’s no good reason to stop me from selling food subject to the same regulations as any restaurant in the area,” Diaz said.

Brian Peffer, the owner of the Creative Chef on Wheels food truck, said that he has received even more requests from future customers to try his food since the lawsuit launched, adding, “I can’t wait until I can serve the people of Fort Pierce.”

In communities around Florida and across the country, consumers have had access to food trucks for years. In all of those places, restaurants continue to thrive alongside food trucks, with many finding that food trucks actually help their businesses by bringing more customers into the area.

Banning food trucks from operating where the people are does nothing to protect consumers. All it does is protect politically connected restaurant owners from competition,” said Dane Stuhlsatz, a constitutional law fellow at IJ who is also an attorney on the case.

IJ fights for food truck and other vendors’ rights across the country through its National Street Vending Initiative. IJ lawsuits in San Antonio, El Paso, Carolina Beach, North Carolina, and Louisville, Kentucky, have successfully eliminated protectionist laws that banned food trucks from operating near their brick-and-mortar competitors. IJ will be arguing against unconstitutional food truck regulations before the Illinois Supreme Court this month. IJ is also litigating food truck cases in Baltimore and Fish Creek, Wisconsin.