Louisville Food Trucks Sue to End City’s Corrupt Bargain with Restaurant Lobby

Institute for Justice · June 28, 2017

Louisville, Ky.—Should Louisville fine and tow its food truck scene out of the city just to protect brick-and-mortar restaurants from healthy competition? That is the question raised in a new federal lawsuit filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky by two local food truck owners—Troy King of Pollo and Robert Martin of Red’s Comfort Foods—and the Institute for Justice (IJ).

The lawsuit aims to overturn the Derby City’s ban on food trucks selling their delicious products within 150 feet of any restaurant that sells similar food—even on private property. Because of the 150-foot proximity ban, food trucks cannot work in large swaths of Louisville without first obtaining written permission from their restaurant competitors. But even if a restaurant grants permission, it can revoke that permission at any time without notice. Worse still, restaurants can and have forced nearby food trucks to shut down by strategically adding similar food items to their menus.

“Louisville’s law makes absolutely no sense and it does nothing to protect health or safety,” said IJ attorney Arif Panju. “Nobody should need to get their competitors’ permission to operate a business.  But that is exactly what food truck owners in Louisville are being forced to do.”

Enforcement of the 150-foot proximity ban is severe. The city threatened to cite and tow Troy’s food truck for the crime of selling chicken dishes near Cravings ala Carte, a restaurant that also serves chicken. And a city inspector ticketed Red’s Comfort Foods, which serves gourmet hot dogs and sausages, for vending within 150 feet of Down One. As a result, Troy and Robert are shut out of viable locations and their would-be customers are left with fewer lunchtime options.

Now, Troy and Robert are teaming up with IJ to ask a critical question: Why is Louisville hurting local businesses by playing favorites instead of encouraging entrepreneurship and job growth?

“I love fixing creative chicken meals, and the customers who come to my truck are the only people who should decide whether my business can stay,” said Troy, who moved his food truck away from a popular spot downtown due to the city’s threats. “The 150-foot rule makes it harder to reach customers, which makes it harder for me to support my family and offer jobs in the community.”

It shouldn’t be this way. Economic liberty—the right to earn a living free from unreasonable government interference—is protected under the U.S. Constitution. In a landmark ruling in Craigmiles v. Giles, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Kentucky, decided that squelching competition to improve a business’s bottom line is not a legitimate use of government power. That ruling marked the first federal court victory for economic liberty since the New Deal, and it prohibits Louisville and other cities from enacting blatantly discriminatory laws like the 150-foot proximity ban.

“Food trucks and street vending aren’t just a convenient way to get a great lunch; they’re a critical first step upward on the ladder of economic advancement,” said IJ senior attorney Robert Frommer. “But Louisville’s 150-foot ban undermines hardworking entrepreneurs to protect politically connected special interests. This lawsuit will vindicate Troy and Robert’s constitutional rights and ensure that consumers, not the government, get to decide where to for lunch.”

Through its National Street Vending Initiative, IJ works to protect and enforce the rights of street vendors coast to coast. IJ lawsuits on behalf of food trucks in Texas lead the San Antonio and El Paso city councils to repeal protectionist laws that banned food trucks from operating near restaurants or convenience stores. IJ has also filed lawsuits to tear down unconstitutional barriers around food trucks in Baltimore and Chicago.