Attorney: Food truck fight bigger than small town lawsuit

Empower Wisconsin | Feb. 18,  2020

By Josh Waldoch

A lawsuit against a Door County town board is about more than the entrepreneurs’ right to operate a food truck on their property, according to the attorney for the plaintiffs. It’s about a basic free-market principle.

“The goal of the lawsuit is to affirm the principle that there is a right to earn an honest living, free of undue government interference,” Milad Emam, attorney for the Institute for Justice (IJ), told Empower Wisconsin in a recent interview.

IJ is representing Lisa and Kevin Howard and Jessica and Chris Hadraba in the lawsuit against the Gibraltar Town Board. The quartet owns White Cottage Red Door, a family gift shop in Fish Creek — an unincorporated area near Gibraltar. They wanted to open the food truck on their property to serve hungry campers.

The business owners properly obtained a state license and also a county zoning permit. That didn’t matter to board members. As Terrance Wall wrote last month in a column for Empower Wisconsin, the board decided to pass a new ordinance banning food carts. Then, Gibraltar’s town constable ordered the food truck to shut down, threatening the owners with a $500 fine for each day they continued to operate.

More so, the board’s decision is steeped in conflict. The chairman owns and operates a competing restaurant, one of the former town board members worked at another restaurant, while a third board member publicly expressed his bias about food carts competing with eateries.

The lawsuit seeks to establish that a vendor’s “right to earn a living does not depend on whether their businesses have wheels or not.”

Emam, the Institute for Justice, and the businesses owners have been fighting this free market fight for more than a year and a half. They beat the town’s motion to dismiss. The hope, Emam said, is to have the case resolved in May, with the court granting summary judgment.

While IJ has fought and won past cases for food truck owners, Emam said he’s never seen a similar case with such apparent conflicts of interest.

The attorney said every economic liberty lawsuit has its challenges, but he believes the entrepreneurs have a strong case. There’s much at stake.

“If victorious on constitutional grounds, it would affirm the right to earn an honest living,” Emam said.

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