Food Trucks

More Food Trucks May Be Coming to Your Baltimore Neighborhood

A judge suspends oppressive city regulations as too vague, but the fight's probably not over.

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Food trucks
Institute for Justice

The Institute for Justice ends 2017 with one more win as a Baltimore circuit judge ruled the city's tough laws restricting food trucks are too vague to be enforced.

Baltimore is a city where leaders have placed strict controls on where food trucks can park for the explicit purpose of protecting restaurants (and farmer's markets, in this case) from competitors. Baltimore's law forbids food trucks from parking within 300 feet of a restaurant that is selling similar foods.

The Institute, representing two food trucks (Pizza di Joey and Madame BBQ), sued to block the ban, arguing that it violates Maryland's constitution and the rights of the truck operators. The city does not have a legitimate interest to justify these restrictions on where mobile food vendors can operate, and that the law itself has been written too vaguely, its lawyers argued.

Its vagueness won the case for the Institute. It's not just a civil code violation when a food truck parks too close to a competing restaurant; it's a misdemeanor criminal violation with a fine involved. But the law doesn't define how to determine whether a food truck is selling similar food as a nearby restaurant or how the 300 feet should be measured. Judge Karen Friedman ruled food truck operators do not have enough information to be able to determine whether they're violating the law or not. She is enjoining the city from enforcing the law until it has been clarified.

Don't celebrate this win for freedom just yet. The judge accepted the city's claim that it had a legitimate interest in protecting restaurants from food truck competition. The city argued it had a stake in protecting its property tax revenue and the stability of commercial districts by keeping food trucks at a distance. The judge actually determined the city has a legitimate interest in protecting brick-and-mortar restaurants from this sort of mobile competition.

The work of the Institute for Justice is, unfortunately, probably not done in Baltimore, as the lawyers noted when announced their win:

"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."

Read the ruling here. John Stossel just covered Pizza di Joey's case in Baltimore earlier in December. Watch below:

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