Nikki McGowan of Madame BBQ. Photo via Institute for Justice.

The year-old legal battle between food truck owners and the city will go to trial next month.

A Baltimore City Circuit Court judge ruled yesterday that the fate of a lawsuit filed by Nikki McGowan of Madame BBQ and Joey Vinano of Pizza di Joey against Baltimore City will be determined in court. The first trial hearing is set for Sept. 28, according to court records.

At issue is a three-year-old law that set a mandatory 300-foot barrier between food trucks and brick-and-mortar businesses offering the same food options. The ordinance took effect in 2014. Vinano and McGowan, represented by attorneys from the Arlington-based Institute for Justice, sued the city last year, arguing the rule is unconstitutional and restricts competition while protecting restaurant owners in neighborhoods.

Greg Reed, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, described the law in a statement as “economic favoritism.”

Lawyers from the city solicitor’s office attempted to have the case thrown out last year, with former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake labeling the suit “much ado about nothing.” A judge denied that request last summer.

Ahead of yesterday’s decision, both sides had asked the judge for summary judgment against one another. Rather than make a decision in favor of either party right then and there, Judge Yolanda Tanner said the case should go to trial.

Mayor Catherine Pugh threw food truck vendors a bone earlier this year by establishing 10 food-truck zones in the city limits. Each one fits two roving eateries and stays in effect from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays.

Still, Vinano and McGowan have pressed forward with their case. As Reed, their attorney, told Baltimore Fishbowl in April, “if the city actually wants a solution to the anti-competitive, unconstitutional 300-foot ban, then the answer is not to just create more food truck zones. The answer is to repeal the 300-foot zone.”

Tanner scheduled a pretrial hearing for this Friday at 10 a.m. at the courthouse downtown.

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Ethan McLeod

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...