Court Date Imminent for Baltimore Food-Truck Lawsuit

Published May 22, 2017

With the hearing date for a lawsuit challenging Baltimore’s zoning restrictions on mobile food vendors drawing near, Mayor Catherine Pugh announced the creation of 10 new “food truck zones” where such operations will be allowed.

Pugh’s concession for concessions arrived amid an approaching August 18 lawsuit filed by two area food-truck vendors seeking the repeal of a 2014 ordinance restricting the city’s mobile food-vending industry.

In May 2016, food-truck operators Joey Vanoni, owner Pizza di Joey, and Nikki McGowan, owner of Madame BBQ, filed a lawsuit against the Baltimore, Maryland mayor in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

Current city zoning regulations prohibit food-truck vendors from operating within a 300-foot radius of brick-and-mortar restaurants serving similar kinds of food.

The lawsuit brought by Vanoni and McGowan will be heard on August 18 by the Maryland Circuit Court for Baltimore City Judge Cynthia Jones. Pugh announced the new food-truck zones in April.

Defending the Dream

Gregory Reed, an Institute for Justice attorney representing Vanoni and McGowan, says the August lawsuit is about defending people’s right to engage in voluntary exchanges.

“After we filed the case, the city filed a motion to dismiss, saying that this is much ado about nothing, even for the individual entrepreneur’s pursuit of the American dream,” Reed said. “The court ruled correctly against the city’s motion to dismiss, because Maryland case law demonstrates that economic protectionism is simply unconstitutional under the state’s Declaration of Rights. It is just simply wrong, as a matter of everyday opportunity, in a city like Baltimore, which is desperate for more economic choices for its residents.”

‘Halfhearted’ Deregulation

Nick Zaiac, a policy analyst at the Maryland Public Policy Institute, says the Pugh’s decision is only a gesture toward deregulation.

“Food-truck zones are a halfhearted attempt to allow street vending, and this one is particularly onerous,” Zaiac said. “It’s attempting to centrally plan mobile vending, with a handful of two-truck zones disproportionately [located] on college campuses.”

Cafe Cronyism

Baltimore’s food-truck regulations were designed to benefit traditional restaurant owners, Zaiac says.

“The ban on selling the same food at nearby brick-and-mortar stores is as close to naked protectionism as one could design,” Zaiac said. “A better way would be to allow them to park where they wished, subject to basic health and safety standards, so long as they pay the market rate for street parking or arrange to park on private land.”