LITIGATION BACKGROUNDER

Louisville Vending

How Louisville Helps Restaurants Shut Down Their Food-Truck Competition, and How IJ Is Going to Stop It.

Nobody should need their competitors’ permission to operate a business. But the government of Louisville is forcing that very requirement on local food trucks. City law bans food trucks from operating within 150 feet of every restaurant in the city that sells similar food. As a result, large swaths of Louisville have become “no-vending” zones, where food trucks are effectively banned—even on private property—unless they obtain a restaurant’s permission to operate. In other words, the Derby City is using government power to give an unfair leg up to its favorite businesses.

Louisville’s 150-foot ban does only one thing: it shuts down food trucks in order to protect restaurants and other eating establishments from competition. To have any chance at vending in these restricted areas, food trucks must first get written permission slips from the very brick-and-mortar competitors the law is designed to protect. Worse still, the 150-foot ban arbitrarily treats food trucks differently based on what they sell. So while a food truck serving burgers would be banned from operating within 150 feet of a burger joint, a pizza truck could park right out front. If that weren’t enough, a restaurant can force a nearby food truck to shut down at any time by simply adding something to its menu that’s similar to whatever food the truck sells.

Among the vendors caught in Louisville’s crosshairs are Troy King and Robert Martin. City inspectors forced Troy to shut down his Pollo food truck by threatening to fine him and tow the food truck away simply because he was vending within 150 feet of a restaurant selling chicken. Robert stopped bringing his Red’s Comfort Foods food truck downtown after city inspectors cited him for serving customers while within 150 feet of a restaurant serving sausages, pork, and bread. While these entrepreneurs attempt to operate their vending businesses to support themselves and their families, Louisville shuts them down for no reason other than to protect restaurants from food-truck competition.

But the government cannot use its power to pick winners and losers in the marketplace. In a landmark ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, which includes Kentucky, decided in Craigmiles v. Giles that protecting a discrete interest group from economic competition is not a legitimate use of government power. Under the U.S. Constitution, economic liberty—the right to earn a living free from unreasonable government interference—receives meaningful protection.

This law makes absolutely no sense and it does nothing to protect health and safety. That is why on June 28, 2017, Troy and Robert filed a lawsuit against the city of Louisville in federal court to challenge the constitutionality of the 150-foot ban and vindicate their rights under the U.S. Constitution. They are represented by the Institute for Justice, whose National Street Vending Initiative vindicates the rights of street vendors nationwide.