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Baltimore’s food truck fight continues: Maryland Court of Appeals to hear case against city restrictions

Pizza di Joey is one of the plaintiffs seeking to overturn Baltimore's restrictions on where food trucks can operate.
Pizza di Joey is one of the plaintiffs seeking to overturn Baltimore's restrictions on where food trucks can operate. (By Matthew Cole / Capital Gazette)

Maryland’s highest court will hear a challenge to Baltimore’s food truck rules.

“This will probably be the ultimate decision on this case,” said Andrew Wimer of the Institute for Justice, a law firm based in Arlington, Virginia, that is fighting to strike down the city’s ban on food trucks within 300 feet of a brick-and-mortar establishment that sells the same type of food.

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In December 2017, the Baltimore Circuit Court declared the ban too vague to be enforceable. But the Maryland Court of Special Appeals overturned that decision in May, calling the 300-foot rule "classic economic regulation, one with a fairly narrow scope grounded in an entirely rational basis.”

Now, the decision heads to the Maryland Court of Appeals, according to a news release from the institute. A hearing date has not yet been scheduled.

In an email to The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore City Solicitor Andre Davis urged the Court of Appeals to uphold the May decision and to clarify the law.

Robert Frommer, the institute’s lead counsel, said he was confident the court would rule in favor of the food trucks and against the 300-foot rule. “Nobody knows what these laws mean," he said.

The Institute for Justice has pursued similar cases involving food trucks in Chicago, San Antonio and El Paso, Texas.

In the opinion from May of this year, Judge Douglas Nazarian noted that since 2015, no food truck vendor had ever received a citation or had a license suspended for violating the 300-foot rule. “Instead, when mobile vendors violate the rule, the City’s enforcement authorities ask them to relocate or to alter their menus according to what brick-and-mortar establishments are nearby.”

Baltimore is home to around 70 licensed food trucks, including Pizza di Joey, a plaintiff in the case.

Nazarian cited one instance in which a University of Maryland police officer approached the owner of Pizza di Joey in response to a nearby deli’s complaint. The food truck’s owner, Joseph Salek-Nejad, who is known professionally as Joey Vanoni, explained that because the deli did not serve pizza, he was allowed to park his truck without violating the 300-foot rule. The officer eventually agreed with him and left, though he came back later that day to buy a slice of pizza.

Pizza di Joey is set to open a brick-and-mortar stall in the revamped Cross Street Market.

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