State High Court Rejects Food Truck Case Against Chicago | WBEZ
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State High Court Rejects Food Truck Case Against Chicago

Updated at 3:49 p.m.

The state’s high court has upheld the city of Chicago’s 2012 ordinance regulating food trucks, with the justices unanimously rejecting the long-running case brought by truck owners.

In a 7-0 ruling announced Thursday, the Illinois Supreme Court said the city’s rule that keeps food trucks 200 feet away from restaurants was constitutional.

The court said that “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.”

The plaintiffs in the case also had challenged the city’s requirement that food trucks be equipped with GPS tracking devices.

Again, the high court sided with the city, saying the GPS rule “is not an unreasonable search and, therefore, passes constitutional muster.”

The 14-page opinion was written by Justice Anne Burke, whose husband is Ald. Edward Burke, 14th Ward.

He was one of the Chicago City Council’s most powerful members and voted in favor of the food truck ordinance, which had the support of then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Federal prosecutors recently accused Edward Burke of attempted extortion.

In rejecting the food trucks owners’ arguments, the state’s high court affirmed earlier rulings by a Cook County Circuit Court Judge Anna Helen Demacopoulos and the 1st District Appellate Court of Illinois.

The Virginia-based Institute for Justice represented the food truck interests free of charge. In a statement Thursday, the group said the Illinois “ruling means fewer options for consumers and fewer opportunities for food industry entrepreneurs.”

Because of the legal defeat, the plaintiffs’ lawyers said, Chicago’s food truck industry “will continue to sputter out.” They said the number of food trucks in the city had shrunk 40% in the past six years.

Robert Frommer, the plaintiffs' lead attorney in the case, said he’ll assess in the next few weeks whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a statement, a top city official hailed the high court ruling. 

"We are pleased with this decision, and we have always maintained that our food truck regulations strike the right balance between the interests of food trucks and restaurants," said Rosa Escareno, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, which regulates food trucks.

2016 investigation by the Chicago Sun-Times and ABC7 Chicago found food trucks frequently broke the rules set up in 2012 without consequence because the Emanuel administration had not enforced the ordinance.

Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government and Politics Team. Follow him @dmihalopoulosMariah Woelfel is a news producer at WBEZ. Follow her @mariahwoelfel.

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