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Lawsuit filed by food truck owners claims Jacksonville food truck regulations are unconstitutional

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(Photo: Institute for Justice)
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Tony Proctor is co-owner of “The Spot,” a Florida-style seafood truck that travels ENC. He is one of five plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“The Spot,” a bright blue food truck that sells Florida-style seafood, is owned and operated by marine veterans Tony Proctor and Octavius Raymond. They’ve run “The Spot'' for four years, routinely touring Eastern North Carolina. Through “good mood food” and customer service, Tony aims to create a positive atmosphere, but prohibitions on audio equipment and decorations prevent him from doing so.

“When I go to Wilmington and other cities, the love and support that they show, that could be replicated here if there weren’t so many regulations,” Proctor said.

Food trucks in Jacksonville must abide by a number of rules. According to city regulations, mobile food vendors cannot operate within 250 feet of restaurants, residential zones, or other food trucks.

“There’s only about 4 or 5 spots that we’re allowed to be,” Proctor said. “There’s 20 food trucks battling for those spots.”

Proctors says the limitations on signage are the most cumbersome. Food trucks are allowed to use one sign within 20 feet of their truck and signs attached to their vehicle. The use of TVs and signs taller than the truck are prohibited. Proctor says the limitations make it hard for passing vehicles to notice the food truck.

“We rely heavily on visibility,” Proctor said. “Visibility provides opportunity, and it's hard for us to be visible when we can’t put out as much as a feathered flag.”

Proctor has had to rely more on social media to promote his business and to notify customers of the truck’s location. He says he spends around $2,000 a month on social media advertising.

The Institute for Justice, a libertarian, public interest law firm, filed the suit on behalf of five food truck and small business owners, saying the regulations violate North Carolina's state constitution.

The plaintiffs allege the city’s regulations place an undue burden on food truck businesses and are designed to stifle competition with traditional restaurants.

“The city isn’t acting to protect people’s health and safety, but rather to protect the local restaurants from having to compete with food truck entrepreneurs,” Bob Belden, an Institute for Justice attorney working on the case, said.

Jacksonville City Attorney John Carter expects to “vigorously” defend the city against the suit.

“The City believes there are several factual and legal inaccuracies in the complaint,” Carter said.

Jacksonville city counselors will determine the city’s strategy at a closed meeting in early January.

Ryan is an Arkansas native and podcast junkie. He was first introduced to public radio during an internship with his hometown NPR station, KUAF. Ryan is a graduate of Tufts University in Somerville, Mass., where he studied political science and led the Tufts Daily, the nation’s smallest independent daily college newspaper. In his spare time, Ryan likes to embroider, attend musicals, and spend time with his fiancée and two cats.