Victory for Baltimore Food Trucks

Institute for Justice · December 20, 2017

Baltimore—Baltimore’s food trucks and their customers have reason to celebrate. Late today, a Baltimore Circuit Court judge ruled the city’s ban on mobile vendors operating within 300 feet of any brick-and-mortar business that sells primarily the same product or service is too vague for the city to enforce. But the judge’s ruling failed to answer an important question: Is the law’s purpose—to financially benefit brick-and-mortar businesses by making their competition illegal—unconstitutional under the Maryland Constitution? The Institute for Justice (IJ) plans to appeal today’s ruling to answer that question. Two Baltimore-area food trucks, Pizza di Joey and Mindgrub Cafe, teamed up with IJ in May 2016 to challenge the ban. The judge gave Baltimore 60 days to stop enforcing the law.

In her ruling, Judge Karen C. Friedman found that no “reasonable person” would be able to understand and navigate the 300-foot ban. Furthermore, the court noted that there was “voluminous evidence” regarding the 300-foot ban’s ambiguity. In fact, the city admitted under oath that the ban was “subjective.” Judge Friedman concluded that the ban’s complete “lack of standards” prevented “enforcement officials, brick-and-mortar restaurants, and food trucks from understanding” how to follow the law.

“Since day one, it has been clear that the 300-foot ban has completely left Baltimore’s food trucks in the lurch,” said IJ Attorney Greg Reed. “The judge gave the city 60 days to stop enforcing the law, which means food trucks will soon no longer have to live in fear of criminal prosecution.”

Under the ban, vendors caught violating the law—which was passed at the request of the retail-business lobby—would be guilty of a misdemeanor and face $500 in fines for each violation.

Joey Vanoni, owner and operator of the Pizza di Joey food truck, said, “I’m happy that this ruling will let me operate more freely in the city, but I look forward to a day when laws like these no longer exist. This is not just a win for me, but a win for all hungry Baltimoreans who will finally have the freedom to choose where to eat lunch.”

“Today’s ruling means Charm City is one step closer to food truck freedom,” added IJ Senior Attorney Robert Frommer. “But until the Maryland courts declare once and for all that cities cannot make it a crime to compete, we will keep fighting.”