Baltimore's food trucks notch another win in fight over '300-foot rule'

Baltimore’s food trucks scored another win in state courts last week.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals denied a motion that would have allowed the city to continue barring food trucks from operating near restaurants, according to court records.

In December, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Karen C. Friedman ruled that the city’s ban, which prevented food trucks from operating within 300 feet of brick-and-mortar businesses selling similar products, was too vague to enforce. Friedman issued an injunction — effectively ending enforcement of the “300-foot rule” — that took affect in mid-February, 60 days after she handed down her decision.

Attorneys for both the city and the food truck owners have filed appeals, which are ongoing. The city requested the court to stay the injunction — allowing the city to continue enforcing the rule while the case is under appeal — but Friedman denied that motion. Attorneys for the city later made the same request to the Court of Special Appeals, which rejected their request last week.

The decision allows food trucks to operate with fewer restrictions as the case is being appealed.

“It’s allowing me to operate more freely throughout Baltimore city,” said Joey Vanoni, owner of the Pizza di Joey food truck and one of the plaintiffs in the two and a half year-long legal battle with the city. “Now with the weather warming up, you’re going to be seeing us around the city a lot more often.”

Food truck owners first sued the city in May 2016 to challenge the “300-foot rule.” They argued that the rule unconstitutionally blocked competition and put them at an economic disadvantage. The case went to trial in September of last year.

In her decision, Friedman said that it was not unconstitutional for the city to regulate food trucks — as the plaintiffs claimed — but that as stated, the rule is so vague that “enforcement is likely to be subjective and arbitrary until the ordinance has been clarified by amendments.”

Robert Frommer, an attorney with the Arlington, Va.-based Institute for Justice who represented food truck owners Vanoni and Nikki Marks, said Tuesday the Court of Special Appeals’ decision to reject the stay was good news for food truck owners.

“The decision means that food truck freedom continues in Baltimore and city officials can’t tell food trucks where they can’t operate simply to line the pockets of established restaurants,” he said.

Representatives with the Baltimore City Law Department could not be reached Monday night.

Baltimore City Solicitor Andre Davis previously said the city would appeal the decision if the court declines to revisit the case.

“The purpose of the ordinance is an attempt to achieve economic equity between competitors in the food business,” Davis said.

It’s not likely to be the last word on the issue, said Dave Pulford, owner of the Upslidedown Dave food truck and president of the Maryland Mobile Food Vendors Association.

“We expect that there’s going to be some sort of legislation that’s going to attempt to bring things back,” he said. But he hopes food truck owners can work together with restaurant owners to come up with regulations that everyone is happy with.

“We’re not trying to put the brick-and-mortar restaurants out of business,” Pulford said. “We believe that there is enough business for everybody in Baltimore.”

ctkacik@baltsun.com

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