Academic journal article Northwestern Journal of Law and Social Policy

Chicago's Over-Burdensome Regulation of Mobile Food Vending

Academic journal article Northwestern Journal of Law and Social Policy

Chicago's Over-Burdensome Regulation of Mobile Food Vending

Article excerpt


On November 14, 2012, plaintiffs George Burke, Kristin Casper, and LMP Services, Inc., owners of the "Schnitzel King" and "Cupcakes for Courage" food trucks, filed suit against the City of Chicago.1 The suit alleged that the City's ordinance regarding the regulation of mobile food vendors violated the Illinois Constitution, including due process guarantees and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.2

The plaintiffs allege that the restrictions placed on mobile food vending in Chicago's municipal code make it virtually impossible to operate a food truck profitably.3 These restrictions include bans on the operation of mobile food vendors within "200 feet of any principal customer entrance to a restaurant which is located on the street level."4 The ordinance contains numerous other restrictions on the operation of food trucks, including establishing zones where food trucks cannot operate,5 dictating food truck hours of operation,6 and limiting the types of kitchens in which mobile food vendors can prepare their foods.7

The Illinois Constitution provides that, "No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law nor be denied the equal protection of the laws."8 The Illinois State Supreme Court has found that this Clause includes the right of state residents to engage in a lawful business when it does not threaten any public interest.9 In their complaint, the plaintiffs allege that the restriction on mobile food vending within 200 feet of a fixed food business prevents the plaintiffs from engaging in a lawful business pursuit.10 Furthermore, they allege that the ordinance serves no legitimate public interest, but exists only to protect fixed businesses, such as restaurants, from having to compete with food trucks.11 The court has not dismissed the plaintiffs' due process claim, nor has it addressed the wisdom or merit of the ordinance or the plaintiffs' argument that the ordinance largely exists to protect fixed restaurants from competition.12

This Note reviews the current regulatory framework in the City of Chicago concerning mobile food vending. Part I analyzes the current ordinances regulating food trucks. The Note then compares Chicago's mobile food vending regulations to those regulations in other American cities. Parts II and III argue the true purpose of some of the mobile food vending restrictions in Chicago is to protect restaurants from competition; Part III also shows that these restrictions have a significant negative impact on the Chicago mobile food vending industry. Part IV examines Illinois court cases that have analyzed mobile food vending and the right to a lawful profession. It also describes the rational basis framework which Illinois courts use in examining the legality of Chicago's mobile food vending ordinances. Part V juxtaposes Chicago's mobile food vending ordinances with these court decisions. This Note concludes that Chicago's mobile food vending ordinances violate the Illinois Constitution. Parts VI and VII argue that many of the current regulations are not optimized to meet stated policy objectives, and make a case for other policies. Finally, this Note argues that protecting restaurants, an implicit objective of many of the mobile food vending regulations, is not a legitimate objective for policymakers.


On June 27, 2012, Chicago's City Council voted to implement Ordinance 02012-4489 (the Ordinance), entitled "Amendment of Titles 2, 4, 7, 9, 10, and 17 of Municipal Code regarding mobile food vehicles."13 Prior to the vote, numerous groups called for reforms to Chicago's regulation of mobile food vendors in Internet editorials14 and other forums.15 The Ordinance passed the City Council 44-1, with Alderman John Arena of Ward 45 being the sole vote against it.16

The Ordinance dramatically changed the mobile food vending landscape in Chicago.17 The Ordinance permits the preparation of food on mobile vehicles, which had previously been banned due to alleged public health concerns. …

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