It is common in cities today to see food trucks parked on the street that sell a variety of types of food. Such mobile food vendors are licensed and regulated. Baltimore has an ordinance that limits parking of such food trucks within 300 feet of a restaurant selling the same type food. This was challenged by food truck vendors in a recent reported opinion from Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals in a case called Pizza Di Joey v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore.
The opinion indicates that the Baltimore ordinance in its current form had been on the books since 2015, and provides as follows: “ A mobile vendor may not park a vendor truck within 300 feet of any retail business establishment that is primarily engaged in selling the same type of food product, or other merchandise, or service as that offered by the mobile vendor.” Violation of the law could result in a $500 fine and loss of license for the food truck. The city argued the law was enacted to address the “free rider” problem, where a food truck selling the same type of food as a brick and mortar restaurant could benefit from a market for that type of food created by a business that had made a substantial investment in the neighborhood.
The food truck vendors argued that this law violated Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, by discriminating against their type of business and not giving them equal protection under the law. They argued that in some neighborhoods, a 300-foot limitation would effectively prevent them from operating. The record showed that no citations had been issued under the law, but when complaints were made the city would ask the vendor to move or change its menu. A trial judge ruled that the 300-foot rule was unconstitutionally vague, and the city appealed.
The appellate court ruled that the proper test of whether the law was constitutional was whether it was “rationally related to a legitimate government interest.” It found that the 300-foot rule rationally furthered the City’s interest in addressing the free rider problem and promoting established restaurants, and upheld the validity of the law.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.