Food Trucks

Illinois' Top Court Blesses Chicago's Cronyist Anti-Food-Truck Regulations

Restaurateurs get protection from small competitors. It’s the citizens who lose out on delicious food choices.


Don't go to Chicago with your fancy food trucks. That was the message from the Illinois Supreme Court today as it upheld oppressive, protectionist regulations designed to protect brick-and-mortar restaurants from mobile competitors.

Chicago forbids food trucks from parking within 200 feet of any establishment that serves food—including convenience stores. The city also requires food trucks to carry GPS devices so they can be tracked. Illinois' top court ruled today that these restrictions pass constitutional muster.

Such regulations have essentially made it impossible to operate food trucks profitably in much of the Windy City. Indeed, they've made it basically impossible to park a truck and serve customers in 97 percent of the city's major business district. Lawbreakers face fines of $1,000 to $2,000 for each violation.

The food-truck-appreciating and property-rights-loving attorneys of the Institute for Justice took on the city on behalf of Laura Pekarik, who attempted to start a cupcake-serving truck to raise money for cancer research. The Institute for Justice filed its suit in November 2012, arguing that the regulations violate the state constitution's due process protections.

The regulations were clearly designed to protect restaurants from competition, though city representatives insisted that they merely wanted to protect the stability and economic growth of Chicago properties and the tax revenue they represent. Even if that is their motive, it's a bad one: It suggests that a government's recognition of our individual liberties is contingent on whether it correlates with city officials' goals. Nevertheless, the top court bought the argument:

The City has a legitimate governmental interest in encouraging the long-term stability and economic growth of its neighborhoods. The 200-foot rule, which helps promote brick-and-mortar restaurants and, thus, neighborhood stability, is rationally related to this legitimate interest. Importantly, too,…[t]his section created a number of food truck stands, i.e., designated areas along the public way where food trucks are permitted to park without being subject to the 200-foot rule. Thus, the City has not entirely banned food trucks. Rather, it has created a regulatory scheme that attempts to balance the interests of food trucks with the need to promote neighborhood stability that is furthered by brick-and-mortar restaurants.

No, the city has not "entirely banned food trucks." But Chicago's food-truck industry has shrunk by 40 percent over the past six years, thanks to the city's oppressive rules.

Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Robert Frommer expresses his disappointment with the court's ruling:

Today's ruling doesn't protect public safety; instead, it protects brick-and-mortar restaurants from honest competition. A hallmark of America is robust competition, not hardball politics and backroom deals. Holding that Chicago may use public power for private gain breaks with over a century of precedent and weakens the constitutional rights of not just food truckers, but all Illinoisans.

Read the court's ruling here, and then read more here from Baylen Linnekin about the trials and tribulations in other communities from people just trying to earn a living selling you delicious food from a truck.