Chicago Business Appeals Judge’s Rotten Food Truck Ruling

Published December 21, 2016

A Chicago, Illinois business owner is appealing a county judge’s decision upholding restrictions on where food truck owners can operate.

In December, Cook County Circuit Judge Anna Helen Demacopoulos upheld the city’s restrictions on food trucks operating in Chicago. Business owner Laura Pekarik, represented by lawyers from the Institute for Justice (IJ), a nonprofit public-interest law firm, is appealing Demacopoulos’ decision, asking judges to overturn Chicago’s food truck ordinance.

Currently, food truck operators in the city are required to install global positioning system (GPS) trackers on their vehicles to facilitate the government’s enforcement of restrictions on where they may be located. The city prohibits food trucks from operating within 200 feet of a restaurant.

Challenging Geographic Restrictions

Robert Frommer, an attorney with IJ, says the lawsuit argues the food truck law is excessive and an invasion of privacy.

“We are challenging two provisions of the law,” Frommer said. “One is that food trucks can’t operate within 200 feet of any kind of restaurant. That could include a Starbucks or a 7-11. It applies even if the food trucks are on private property, or even on another block entirely.

“The other provision that we’re challenging is a requirement that all the trucks have installed GPS tracking devices that allow the government to follow their every move and that information needs to be made available to anyone who asks for it,” Frommer said. “It’s a pretty gross invasion of privacy.”

Shrinking Industry

Frommer says the food truck restrictions have caused significant harm.

“In 2012, when this was passed, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel said this would help encourage the food truck industry and help it grow and thrive in Chicago,” Frommer said. “Back then, there were 127 trucks in Chicago. Now, according to the head of the [Illinois] Food Truck Association, there are between 60 and 70. We did a study, and we found out that because of the 200-foot rule, 97 percent of the North Loop area—the downtown area of Chicago where everyone works—is off limits for food trucks.”

Preventing Competition

Andrew Moylan, executive director of the R Street Institute, says governments should stop protecting established businesses from competition.

“We don’t prevent gas stations from popping up across the street from other gas stations, just to protect them from the horrors of competition,” Moylan said. “It’s a major problem that city governments are making regulations to prevent competition between businesses.”

Moylan says well-connected insiders often use government power to fight their competitors.

“We see this fight over and over again, where we have these entrenched interests that utilize the levers of power to help protect them and their business model,” Moylan said. “They do so at the expense of consumers, at the expense of innovation, at the expense of the dynamic spirit that provides new flavor and economic opportunity.”