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Maryland court rules in favor of Baltimore's 300-foot food truck ban

A Maryland court ruled in favor of Baltimore’s “300-foot rule” for food trucks, effectively reinstating a ban on mobile food vendors conducting business near brick-and-mortar restaurants.

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Judge Douglas R.M. Nazarian overturned Thursday a lower court’s ruling that declared the ban too vague to enforce.

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Baltimore food truck owners Joey Vanoni and Nikki McGowans first contested the ban in a 2016 lawsuit filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court. The suit alleged that the city law prohibiting food trucks from operating within 300 feet of a business that sells the same product violated their constitutional rights.

The lawsuit argued that the rule’s only purpose was to protect existing food industry businesses from competition.

City Solicitor Andre Davis said Friday that the purpose of the ordinance was an attempt to achieve economic equity between competitors in the food business.

“We’re just very pleased that the court vindicated the City Council’s efforts to level the playing field for small-business people and restaurant operators,” Davis said.

Davis said the city does not plan to recommence enforcement of the ban until after the lawsuit has run its course. Food truck operators will have the chance to seek further consideration from the Maryland Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state.

“It will certainly be a gentle enforcement,” Davis said of the ordinance, adding that the city does not wish to chase away businesses.

Vanoni, owner of the Pizza di Joey food truck, called the decision “disappointing, not just for me and other food truck entrepreneurs, but also for my fellow Baltimore City residents.”

“They love food trucks and what we have to offer them. We have not come this far to give up now,” he said in a statement.

McGowans and Vanoni were represented by Gregory Reed and Robert Frommer of the Institute for Justice, an Arlington, Va.-based firm that works on cases surrounding "economic liberty," property rights, free speech and school choice.

“This decision embracing protectionism does not square with the Maryland constitution,” Frommer said in a statement. “For decades, Maryland courts have turned away efforts to stifle one private business in order to benefit another. Economic liberty is the cornerstone of the American Dream and we will continue the fight for that dream at the Maryland Court of Appeals.”

The organization has tackled similar cases involving food trucks in other cities, including Chicago, San Antonio and El Paso, Texas.

Baltimore City Council passed the 300-foot rule into law in 2014. The rule applies to all mobile vendors, not just food trucks, and violators can face $500 fines and the revocation of their mobile vendor's license.

Baltimore Sun reporter Christina Tkacik contributed to this article.

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