San Juan Vending

Franco v. San Juan County
Vindicating the Right to Earn an Honest Living in the Evergreen State

For more than 30 years, Gary Franco has earned a living as a vendor who sells fresh, Washington-grown produce in and around San Juan County.  But government officials have now passed a law designed to force vendors like Gary out of business.

Too often, government officials are more concerned about protecting special interests than they are the rights of entrepreneurs.  That was the case in San Juan County, Wash., where the County council passed a law designed to shut down hardworking entrepreneur Gary Franco, a longtime produce vendor.

The ordinance, passed at the behest of politically connected brick-and-mortar businesses, required vendors to obtain a government permit and pay $50 per day for the right to earn their living.  Were that not bad enough, to obtain the permit, vendors were required to receive the consent of competing brick-and-mortar businesses.  In other words, the ordinance gave business owners the right to veto their competition.

While the County maintained that requiring a permit to vend was necessary to protect the public health and safety, it didn’t force all vendors to obtain a permit.  Rather, it carved out exemptions for its own favored categories of vendors—for example, farmers who sold their own produce; ice cream trucks; and nonprofit and charitable groups, such as the Lions Club or Kiwanis.  Vendors like Gary posed no more of a problem than these favored, exempt vendors, yet they were still required to pay the government and obtain the blessing of their competitors in order to earn an honest living.    

Assisted by the Institute for Justice Washington Chapter (IJ-WA), Gary challenged San Juan’s ordinance in order to vindicate the right of all Washingtonians to earn an honest living free of the kind of economic protectionism behind San Juan’s unconstitutional ordinance.  During the course of the litigation, however, the County adopted a new ordinance which, in some respects, was even worse than the original.  Frustrated by his inability to earn an honest living in his own country, Gary moved to Europe, where, ironically, he has found greater economic opportunity.  In light of the ordinance and Gary’s moving overseas, IJ-WA voluntarily dismissed the case in September 2010.

IJ is investigating this and other similar vending regulations in Washington and may file similar challenges in the future.

Essential Background


Backgrounder: Local Entrepreneur & Institute for Justice Challenge San Juan County Vending Ordinance

Client Photo

Client Video - none available

Launch Release: Entrepreneur Files Constitutional Lawsuit Against San Juan County (September 16, 2009)

Legal Briefs and Decisions

IJ Complaint filed September 16, 2009


Case Timeline

Filed Lawsuit: 


September 16, 2009

Court Filed:


San Juan County Superior Court



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Next Key Date:




Additional Releases

Maps, Charts and Facts

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Op-eds, News Articles and Links

Article: Rotten Law Spoiling Produce Entrepreneur's Right to Earn an Honest Living Liberty & Law (December 2009)

Article: Farmer Sues Over County Permit Capital Press, Sep 25 2009


Article: Peddling Ordinance Lawsuit Filed The Island Guardian, Sep 17 2009

Article: Lopez farmer sues San Juan County over ordinance requiring vendor permits; says law is discriminatory, unconstitutional San Juan Journal, Sep 16 2009
Article: Did You Get Your Competitor's Permission to Open that Business? Reason Hit & Run, Sep 16 2009

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