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Baltimore’s food truck lawsuit to proceed to Court of Appeals

The Bombay Kitchen food truck serves a customer on Friday, May 31, 2019 on Charles Street in Baltimore. (The Daily Record / Jason Whong)

The Bombay Kitchen food truck serves a customer on Friday, May 31, 2019, on Charles Street in Baltimore. (The Daily Record / Jason Whong)

Food truck vendors are taking their lawsuit over Baltimore’s ordinance that bans them from operating near restaurants with “similar” fare to the state’s highest court.

The Court of Appeals agreed Monday to hear the case, which will likely be argued in January, according to the clerk’s office.

The “300-foot rule” prohibits mobile vendors from setting up shop within 300 feet of a brick-and-mortar establishment primarily engaged in selling similar products. A city judge found the law unconstitutionally vague in 2017, but the Court of Special Appeals reversed earlier this year, finding the ban was a constitutional use of the city’s police power.

The lawsuit was brought by the Institute for Justice on behalf of two vendors, who claimed the law was significantly limiting where their trucks could operate in the city and was confusing both to them and to enforcement officers. Attorneys claimed the law is anti-competitive and discriminates among businesses.

“Baltimore’s confusing 300-foot ban makes it almost impossible for food truck owners to know whether they are breaking the law,” said Rob Frommer, senior attorney with the Institute for Justice. “Violating the 300-foot ban is a crime, but city officials don’t agree with how to interpret and enforce it. Food truck owners risk their livelihoods every time they serve customers because of this vague, anti-competitive law.”

But the Court of Special Appeals rejected the trial court’s finding of vagueness and the claim that the law is unconstitutionally discriminatory.

“Their right to be mobile vendors isn’t threatened, only their right to park and sell in certain places within Baltimore City,” Judge Douglas R.M. Nazarian wrote on behalf of the unanimous three-judge panel. “This purely economic regulation gets the highest level of legislative deference under the traditional rational basis review.”

City Solicitor Andre M. Davis declined to comment on the Court of Appeals’ decision to take the case, saying in a statement only that he and the city “look forward to the opportunity to support Judge Nazarian’s extraordinarily thoughtful, scholarly, and compelling opinion.”

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