Food truck operators are suing the city of Middle TN over an “unfair” permitting ordinance.
metric tons. JOLIET, Tenn. (WKRN) – Three food truck operators in Middle Tennessee have filed a lawsuit against the city of Mount Juliet over an ordinance they say discriminates against out-of-town food truck operators like themselves.
The civil rights complaint, filed by the Beacon Center of Tennessee, says the food truck ordinance passed by the city in July violates the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions by depriving out-of-town food truck operators “their right to earn a living and their right to equality before the law.”
The Bacon Center filed the lawsuit on behalf of Shivanada food trucks, operated by Daniel Yarzagarai; Funk Seoul Brother, owned by William “PJ” Loveback; and Mikey’s Pizza, owned by Elaine and Michael Maltese. The three food trucks frequently operate in Middle Tennessee cities, including Mount Juliet.
“The ordinance penalizes out-of-town food truck operators for the wrongful reason of protecting city residents from competition and has no connection to legitimate health and safety concerns,” the Beacon Center said in a statement about the lawsuit.
The ordinance in question requires any food truck that does not originate from Mount Juliet to pay a permit fee of $100 per day in order to do business within the Mount Juliet city limits. However, Mount Juliet food trucks are only required to pay $100 per year in annual fees. The lawsuit claims that this $100 per day fee is “obscenely expensive” for any outside food truck to make a living.
Yarzagaray and Loveback are both Nashville residents, while the Maltese are College Grove residents, which means everyone must pay $100 a day for permits to work on Mount Juliet.
“mountain. Juliet’s discrimination against out-of-town food trucks is unfair and unconstitutional, said Wayne Fa, Beacon’s director of legal affairs. “Aside from the staggering difference between paying $100 a day as an out-of-town resident versus just $100 a year as a city resident, it becomes even more horrifying when you realize what these food truck operators have done to Mount Juliet residents in their homes. In their time of need. Despite stepping up efforts to help Mount Juliet After the hurricane, food trucks like Funk Seoul Brother and Chevanada are now being penalized under Mount Juliet’s protectionist food truck law. This double standard must end, and if we prevail, every food truck operator in the state will be treated equally under the law.
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When devastating tornadoes struck Middle Tennessee in 2020, Lovepack and other food truck operators from around the region “swarmed” the city, offering free food to residents who had lost their homes, the lawsuit notes, and Mount Juliet Food Waived restrictions on food trucks at the height of COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 in order to provide residents with a “safe alternative to restaurants.”
Prior to 2020, Mount Juliet reportedly allowed food trucks to operate only if they obtained a temporary event permit, allowing them to attend more than six times a year. In 2020, the city waived permit requirements for food trucks, because they provided a “safe way to order food” when most restaurants were closed during the pandemic and after a hurricane struck the area.
In April 2020, the city reinstated the process for permitting food trucks, citing the need to protect local restaurants that were reopening for in-person dining.
Then in early 2023, the suit says, the city adopted a pilot program to allow food trucks to return to the city more frequently, which was fully approved by ordinance in July. The program went into effect on August 15. The law stipulates that food trucks must obtain a “mobile food vendor” permit from the city to operate. The permit costs $100 per day for food trucks but includes an exemption for food trucks within the city.
Click here to view the full lawsuit
By imposing daily fees on out-of-town food truck operators, the Beacon Center says Mount Juliet is arbitrarily denying out-of-town food trucks the ability to operate in the city in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and a similar provision in the Tennessee Constitution. Additionally, the lawsuit claims that this provision violates the “Law of the Land” clause of the Tennessee Constitution.
“Out-of-town food truck fees only serve the illegitimate purpose of protecting Mount Juliet-based businesses from competition,” they say in the complaint. “By enforcing this requirement, Mount Juliet, acting under the law, irrationally and arbitrarily discriminates against Plaintiffs in favor of Mount Juliet-based businesses, thereby depriving Plaintiffs of their right to the equal protection of the laws.”
The lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee to block the city from enforcing the law and declare it unconstitutional.