* Back in 2017, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled against some food truck owners who objected to being prohibited from doing business in Chicago’s Medical Center District. So, this should probably be no surprise…
The Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Chicago’s food truck regulations are constitutional and that the city can protect restaurants from their wheeled competitors.
The court affirmed the ruling of the appellate court and the circuit court before it, which also had decided in favor of the city in a lawsuit that claimed Chicago’s food truck restrictions suppress competition.
The lawsuit, filed in 2012 by food truck owner Laura Pekarik, who runs Cupcakes for Courage, claimed a city rule prohibiting food trucks from parking within 200 feet of any establishment that serves food — a category that includes convenience stores with hot dog rollers — forces food trucks to make concessions to help their bricks-and-mortar competitors succeed. Another part of the law that mandates food trucks carry GPS devices so that the city can track their whereabouts constitutes a “warrantless search” and violates privacy protections, the suit claimed.
Chicago food truck operators say the city’s restrictions have driven entrepreneurs out of business and stunted the local scene even as it has thrived elsewhere in the nation.
* The Institute for Justice filed the lawsuit…
[IJ Senior Attorney Robert Frommer] concluded, “Today’s ruling is a sharp break from decades of Illinois precedent that protects the right to earn an honest living subject only to reasonable government regulation. There is nothing reasonable about the government prohibiting you from operating near your competitors, or tracking you like a criminal out of fear you may sell delicious food to willing customers. The Illinois Supreme Court’s failure to stand up to the powerful on behalf of ordinary folks, like Laura and other food truckers in the state, does a profound disservice to the constitutional rights of everyone in the state.”
* From the opinion…
When applying the rational basis test, our inquiry is twofold: we must determine whether there is a legitimate governmental interest behind the legislation and, if so, whether there is a reasonable relationship between that interest and the means the governing body has chosen to pursue it. See People v. Reed, 148 Ill. 2d 1, 11 (1992). The party challenging a legislative enactment as failing rational basis review bears the burden of proving by clear and affirmative evidence that the enactment constitutes arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable legislative action; that there is no permissible interpretation that justifies its adoption; or that it does not promote the safety and general welfare of the public. […]
Both brick-and-mortar restaurants and food trucks are important businesses that bring significant benefits to the City. However, they do so in very different ways. Brick-and-mortar restaurants bring stability to the neighborhoods in which they are located. The restaurants pay property taxes and have a vested interest in seeing that their neighborhoods continue to grow and thrive so that their own businesses will flourish. Moreover, in certain areas of the City, such as Greektown, restaurants are a vibrant part of the community and bring a long-term sense of cohesiveness and identity to the area. In this way, brick-and-mortar restaurants can help establish certain parts of the City as tourist destinations in and of themselves, thereby increasing revenue for the City and improving stable economic growth.
In contrast, while food trucks bring a life and energy to the City that is all their own, they simply do not have the same long-term, stabilizing effect on City neighborhoods as brick-and-mortar restaurants do. Indeed, the business model of food trucks and a good deal of their appeal are built on mobility, not stability: The trucks may be in the City one day and in Evanston or Aurora the next.
The City has a legitimate governmental interest in encouraging the long-term stability and economic growth of its neighborhoods. The 200-foot rule, which helps promote brick-and-mortar restaurants and, thus, neighborhood stability, is rationally related to this legitimate interest. […]
A case more on point to the present one is Triple A Services, in which this court upheld a Chicago ordinance that prohibited food trucks from conducting business within a certain section of the City identified as the “Medical Center District.” Triple A Services, 131 Ill. 2d at 223. Applying the rational basis test, we held that the City had the power to regulate the use of its streets for private gain and, therefore, had the authority to prohibit food trucks from operating in the medical district. Moreover, we found that the prohibition was rationally related to the City’s legitimate interest in ensuring that emergency vehicles, medical personnel, and medical clients had easy access to the medical facilities; in enhancing the appearance of the district; and in promoting sanitary conditions within the area. Thus, we upheld the ordinance as constitutionally valid. Similarly, in the present case, the City has a legitimate interest in ensuring the long-term viability of its neighborhoods, an interest that food trucks do not further.
In sum, we find that plaintiff has not met its considerable burden of showing that the 200-foot rule is an arbitrary and unreasonable municipal action and that no permissible interpretation justifies its adoption. The 200-foot rule is not unreasonable because it is a part of a regulatory scheme that seeks to balance the interests of food trucks with the City’s need to advance the stability and long-term economic growth of its neighborhoods. Having found that the 200-foot rule is rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest, we need not consider the City’s alternative rationales for upholding the constitutionality of the 200-foot rule.