HIALEAH – A challenge to the street vendor law in Hialeah has been denied by the Florida Supreme Court.
The Hialeah law makes it illegal for street vendors to stand still and display their merchandise. The law was challenged by a lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice on behalf of a group of vendors in 2011, stating that the Hialeah law was anti-competitive and unconstitutional.
While repealing the law’s 300-foot proximity ban on vending near a brick-and-mortar establishment, the Florida Supreme Court strengthened other restrictions to essentially achieve the same result. The court said the law protects vendors and the public from traffic accidents that could occur as a result of selling outside a brick-and-mortar store.
The lead plaintiff in the case was Silvio Membreno, a flower vendor that sells in private parking lots with the owner’s permission. Under the law, Membreno will constantly have to move his business to stay safe, allegedly reducing his ability to build up a clientele.
He will have to worry about police crackdowns under the law, as Rob Peccola, lead attorney on the case from the Institute of Justice told the Florida Record.
“The city typically waits until Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day (the two busiest flower vending days that present the most competition to brick-and-mortars) to send out law enforcement to crack down on vendors,” he said.
Street vendors must have a license from the city to sell as well as one from the county – totaling $150 a year. While the vendors are licensed, this doesn’t protect them from law enforcement as under the Hialeah law, they must hide their products and constantly move elsewhere.
Under the law, vendors are allowed to store their merchandise on public property with written permission from the owner. Vendors have claimed that the law is not flexible enough and is not enforced consistently. They believe it will actually make vending less safe.
“Vendors must work in fear of law enforcement since inaction by the Florida Supreme Court deprived them of their constitutional right to earn a living,” said Peccola. “Some vendors will inevitably do business in other municipalities, which is unfortunate because they provide such a wonderful service in Hialeah.”
As its argument, the Institute for Justice sought to affirm the Florida Constitution’s legal test for economic liberty. The court ruled that under the Florida test, plaintiffs are unable to disprove the effects of the law through evidence submitted in the case. It refused to review the case any further.
The ruling ends the Institute for Justice’s legal road.
“There are no more avenues for appeal because the challenges were based on the Florida Constitution and not the federal Constitution," said Peccola. “When the Florida Supreme Court decided not to take the case, it ended our appellate options.”
While the plaintiffs’ legal options may have run out, Peccola said they will continue to fight by working with Silvio and other activists to raise awareness about the importance of street vending and the challenges that vendors face.