Joey Vanoni

Why does Baltimore not allow me to sell pizza within 300 feet of another pizzeria?

Find out more about Joey Vanoni's case

Joey Vanoni and Nikki McGowan are Baltimore-area mobile vending entrepreneurs. Joey is a Navy veteran and the owner of Pizza di Joey, a New York-style brick oven pizza food truck. The truck gives Joey the opportunity not only to serve delicious slices, but to also to hire his fellow veterans. Nikki is the owner of Madame BBQ, a barbecue food truck that allows Nikki to share her love of cooking with Baltimore’s diverse communities.

Baltimore-Vending-DRW_0252Joey and Nikki are precisely the type of hardworking entrepreneurs that the Charm City should encourage. Instead, Baltimore has made it nearly impossible for mobile vendors like Joey and Nikki to succeed.

Since 2014, mobile vendors have been banned from operating within 300 feet of any brick-and-mortar business that sells the same type of food, merchandise or service—including restaurants, cafes and convenience or clothing stores. Vendors that do face $500 in fines for each violation and can have their vendor’s license revoked.

The effect is to prohibit mobile vendors from operating in large swaths of Baltimore. The law is especially hard on food trucks, like Pizza di Joey and Madame BBQ, because of the city’s many restaurants and other food establishments. Worse still, the 300-foot rule arbitrarily treats food trucks differently based on what they sell. So while a taco truck would be banned from operating near a Mexican restaurant, a gyro truck could park right out front.


This law makes absolutely no sense—and it is unconstitutional. Its sole purpose is to protect brick-and-mortar businesses from competition. That is why on May 11, 2016, Joey and Nikki filed a lawsuit against the city challenging its 300-foot rule as a violation of the Maryland Constitution. They are represented by the Institute for Justice, which has won similar fights nationwide as part of its National Street Vending Initiative. A victory will secure the right to economic liberty for all Baltimore mobile vendors and empower entrepreneurs throughout Maryland.

Lata Jagtiani

Why does Louisiana require eyebrow threaders to get twice as much training as emergency medical technicians?

Find out more about Lata Jagtiani's case

Eyebrow threading is a grooming technique that dates back thousands of years to parts of South Asia and the Middle East. The technique is simple. Threading, as it is commonly known, uses cotton thread and nothing else to lift unwanted hair from the follicle. Since its arrival in the United States, threading’s popularity has soared, offering threaders countless opportunities for entrepreneurship and a shot at the American dream.

But in Louisiana, the government has created pointless barriers that make it virtually impossible for threaders to earn a living. In order to practice the simple skill of threading, Louisiana requires threaders to obtain a traditional esthetician’s license that involves no training in threading. This requirement forces threaders to waste hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars learning cosmetology techniques they do not use. To make matters worse, just across the border in Texas, this exact requirement was declared unconstitutional for eyebrow threaders last year. By forcing threaders into this irrational licensing scheme, Louisiana’s government has placed the American dream out of reach for threading entrepreneurs across the state.

That’s why one Louisiana business and two threaders are fighting back. With the help of the Institute for Justice, the Threading Studio, run by Lata Jagtiani, and threaders Ushaben Chudasma and Panna Shah have filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s licensing requirement. They are asking why the government is forcing threaders to quit their jobs and waste time and money learning techniques that have nothing to do with threading. Together they are taking a stand for their right—and the right of all Louisianans—to earn an honest living.

What is Economic Liberty?

Economic Liberty is the simple idea that all Americans have a right to earn an honest living.

Economic liberty—the right to earn a living in the occupation of your choice without unnecessary government interference—is at the heart of the American Dream. Unfortunately, all too many entrepreneurs find that this dream is under constant attack by unreasonable licensing, permitting and other requirements that stand in the way of honest competition. The mission of IJ’s economic liberty practice is to remove these barriers by persuading state and federal judges to take entrepreneurs’ constitutional rights seriously.

IJ Clients Ask Why

Ken Leininger

Why does Little Rock allow a single taxi business to maintain a monopoly?

Find out more about Ken Leininger's case

The City of Little Rock has only one taxi business, and it is illegal to start a second one. Little Rock’s government has completely forgotten that the right to choose which taxi to hire belongs to customers, and the government does not get to make this choice for them. Yet that is exactly what Little Rock’s government is doing by intentionally providing a monopoly to the only taxi company in town.

Rather than doing what’s best for the public, Little Rock’s government has become one company’s henchman. Little Rock’s unusual ban on new taxi companies prevents Little Rock’s citizens from enjoying the competition, job creation, and consumer choice found in most other U.S. cities.

An entrepreneur and his environmentally friendly hybrid taxi business have finally had enough. They have filed suit in Pulaski County Circuit Court arguing that the city’s establishment of a private monopoly violates the Arkansas Constitution. Monopolies are harmful to entrepreneurs, employees, and consumers alike, which is why the Arkansas Constitution forbids them.

The Little Rock Board of Directors has directly violated multiple sections of the Arkansas Constitution. Unfortunately, it appears that only a lawsuit will make the Board notice. That is why a taxi driver and his fledgling business have joined forces with the Institute for Justice to vindicate the right of entrepreneurs to compete.

Aaron Dallek

Why can’t South Carolinians update their glasses prescriptions online the way you can in most states?

Find out more about Aaron Dallek's case

Chicago-based startup Opternative offers a simple promise: Get a new prescription for glasses or contacts from the comfort of your own home. Opternative’s technology allows doctors to provide faster and better service to more people by using computers and smartphones to conduct the kind of routine exam that doctors use to determine most glasses prescriptions. But not in South Carolina. In 2016, the state Legislature voted to ban Opternative’s innovative technology in order to protect the profits of existing storefront businesses, even overriding the governor’s veto.

In vetoing the bill that bans Opternative, Gov. Nikki Haley was frank about what the law does: “I am vetoing this bill,” she wrote, “because it uses health practice mandates to stifle competition for the benefit of a single industry, . . . putting us on the leading edge of protectionism, not innovation.” Unfortunately, Gov. Haley’s message went unheeded and the Legislature overrode her veto.

But Gov. Haley was right: The bill presented a simple choice between new technologies that expand access to care and protectionist legislation that preserves the profits of established businesses. The Legislature chose the wrong option.

State courts across the country have struck down laws that exist solely to protect established businesses from competition. South Carolina’s courts—which recently reaffirmed that the state’s Constitution provides substantial protections for individual liberty—can be expected to follow their example in this case.

South Carolina’s ban on online eye exams serves no real public purpose. Online eye exams like Opternative’s are not comprehensive eye exams—they do not look for signs of disease or other health problems. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that otherwise healthy adults ages 18 to 39 get a comprehensive eye-health exam every five to 10 years and that otherwise healthy adults ages 40 to 54 get one every two to four years. However, prescriptions for glasses and contacts in South Carolina expire after only one year, leaving a gap for prescription services. Opternative’s services are not meant to replace comprehensive eye exams; they are meant to expand access to care by allowing doctors to write new prescriptions without forcing people to drive to optometrist storefronts. That is good for both doctors and patients. In fact, it is good for everyone—except the people who own optometrist storefronts.

That is why Opternative has teamed up with the Institute for Justice to file a major constitutional challenge to South Carolina’s law, asking the state’s courts to stand up for innovation and medical autonomy—and to stand against economic protectionism.

Throughout the nation, cities and counties are looking for ways to promote economic liberty and improve the well-being of their residents But all too often this desire to improve economic conditions manifests itself in expensive and wasteful corporate welfare, public investment in real estate schemes, quaint-but-ine cient forms of mass transit, and other counterproductive uses of tax dollars It’s time for a di erent approach—one that promotes economic growth by unleashing the transformative power of economic liberty.

20151205_566242c218cd9 Download the Report

Business Licensing

Perhaps the most common complaint among small-business owners is the difficulty of getting all of the necessary licenses and permits to open. In some cases, these requirements verge on the absurd.

Bottom Line

  • Reduce or eliminate unnecessary or duplicative licenses.
  • Establish one-stop shopping for required licenses.
  • Eliminate overly rigid business classifications that stifle innovation.

Street Vending and Food Trucks

Street vending has long been a part of the American economy and a fixture of urban life. In recent years, vendors operating from sidewalk food carts have been joined by food trucks offering consumers a wide variety of dining options.

Bottom Line

  • Legalize food trucks and carts.
  • Hold food trucks and carts to safety standards that are comparable to restaurants, but that take account of the mobile nature of the business.
  • Repeal anticompetitive proximity and durational restrictions.
  • Promote competition by removing unjustifiable burdens on brick-and-mortar restaurants.


Historically, one of the easiest ways for entrepreneurs to start climbing the economic ladder was to take a job in transportation. With just a driver’s license, a safe vehicle and insurance, anyone could become their own boss driving a taxi or a jitney van. But as cities increasingly regulated (or, in the case of jitneys, outlawed) these industries, opportunities for entrepreneurship dried up.

Bottom Line

  • Allow anyone with a driver’s license, a safe vehicle and appropriate insurance to drive for pay.
  • Remove government-imposed caps on new entrants into the taxi market.
  • Legalize low-cost transportation options like jitneys and dollar vans. 
  • Eliminate minimum-fare laws.

Sign codes

For small businesses, there is perhaps no advertising method that delivers more bang for the buck than the humble sign. They may not be flashy or slickly produced, but window signs and A-frames are a vital means of advertising prices, sales or even the location of an out-of-the-way small business.

Bottom Line

  • Eliminate any rules that depend on the subject matter of the sign. Real estate signs, flags, and signs about prices must all be treated the same.
  • Focus sign regulation on genuine health-and-safety concerns, such as preventing injury from falling signs, blinding lights, and signs blocking traffic.

Home-based businesses

The story of Apple, Inc., is, perhaps, the quintessential American success story: A pair of entrepreneurs with unparalleled vision start a business in the garage that grows into one of the wealthiest corporations in the world.

Bottom Line

  • Legalize all home-based businesses, except those that interfere with neighbors’ enjoyment of their property, such as by being excessively noisy or smelly.
  • Refrain from imposing employee or visitor restrictions, except where there is insufficient parking on the property and there is a genuine problem with lack of street parking.
  • Eliminate permitting requirements for nondangerous home-based businesses that already have a business license.


Economic development is a dynamic process—no one can predict in advance where the next successful business is going to start or what is going to be the next growth industry. So it’s no surprise that some of the biggest barriers to economic dynamism are the notoriously rigid laws that regulate zoning.

Bottom Line

  • Classify more areas as appropriate for multiple kinds of uses.
  • Use overlay zoning to create flexibility for developers and property owners.

Food Regulation

Street vendors and food truck owners aren’t the only entrepreneurs hampered by burdensome regulations on food-service providers. Municipalities frequently require that food for commercial sale be prepared in a commercial kitchen, the cost of which can be tens of thousands of dollars. This upfront expense can price many entrepreneurs out of the market.

Bottom Line

  • Allow for the operation of shared kitchens and other alternative food-preparation sites that meet established health and safety standards.
  • Allow the sale of home-prepared foods.

Hinga Mbogo

Why is Dallas using its zoning power to shut down my mechanic shop that has been in business for 30 years?

Find out more about Hinga Mbogo's case

For more than 30 years, Hinga Mbogo has been fixing the cars of Dallas residents at his shop on Ross Avenue. An immigrant from Kenya, Hinga came to this country and fell in love with Dallas. He opened his shop, Hinga’s Automotive, in 1986 and has since become one of the city’s most trusted and beloved mechanics.

The city of Dallas likes to talk about how welcoming it is for entrepreneurs, particularly small-business owners. If Dallas were truly business-friendly, it would want to help a long-term, minority-owned business thrive.

But instead of letting Hinga’s business be, the city is trying to shut it down. In 2005, Dallas changed the zoning along Ross Avenue to specifically exclude auto-related businesses. Using an oppressive and little-known process called “amortization,” the city gave businesses that did not conform to the new zoning rules a certain number of years to continue to operate. At the end of that time, the businesses had to either conform or close. And the city would not have to pay any of them a single dime.

Why is the city doing this? It has embarked on the effort to drive the auto-related businesses from Ross Avenue because it wants to transform the area into a “gateway” to Dallas’s “arts district.” Having driven all of the other auto-related firms away (often to be replaced with trash-strewn vacant lots), the city now wants Hinga gone so it will be easier to attract, as one city councilmember said, businesses “like Starbucks and Macaroni Grill.”

For Hinga, conforming to the new zoning rule would force him to close his mechanic shop and try to set up shop at a less desirable location that he would have to lease, as opposed to staying on the property that he owns and which is fully paid off. He has fought the city at every step and has used every recourse available to him to allow him to try to keep his business on his land. But those options are exhausted—the city denied his last request to stay for another two years and has sued him to enforce its zoning laws. That is why he has teamed with the Institute for Justice to fight this unconstitutional land grab.

Others have asked why. Now it's your turn.

Questions others have already asked: