Vehicles for Hire: Julie Crowe v. the City of Bloomington

Should a city government be allowed to stop someone from starting a business just to protect established companies from competition? Should a city official be allowed to deny someone a license to start a business just because the official doesn’t consider the new business “desirable”?

Until recently, the city of Bloomington had a law that allowed local officials to do just that.

Fortunately, a decision issued by Judge Rebecca Foley of the McLean County Circuit Court answered both of those questions with a resounding no.

The Liberty Justice Center brought a lawsuit in February 2012 on behalf our client Julie Crowe, who was denied a license to start a vehicle-for-hire business based on a local law that allowed city officials to keep new competitors out of the market to protect established businesses.

In August 2013, Judge Foley struck down that law for violating the Illinois Constitution. Her decision recognized that the government has no legitimate reason to exclude entrepreneurs like Ms. Crowe from competing. She also held that if the government is going to issue licenses for starting a business, the standards it applies must be — unlike Bloomington’s — clear, objective and fair.

This court victory is important not only because it will allow Ms. Crowe to start her business, but also because it will send a message to local governments across Illinois that they can’t deny citizens their right to earn a living just to protect politically favored businesses from competition. If Illinois is going to rise out of its economic stagnation, it will have to stop imposing anticompetitive regulations and picking winners and losers in the market. This decision represents a step in that direction and in the direction of restoring liberty for all Illinoisans.

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 This civil rights lawsuit seeks to vindicate an entrepreneur’s right to earn an honest living free from anticompetitive, arbitrary, and unreasonable government regulation.

Want to start a business? Too bad.

Julie Crowe, a veteran and Bloomington, Illinois native, has worked in the past as a vehicle-for-hire driver — which, in Bloomington, mostly involves taking Illinois State University students to and from downtown bars at night. She liked the work, and her customers liked her — especially young women who preferred a female driver who would make sure they got home safely in their inebriated state after nights on the town. Her customers also preferred riding in her relatively small van to riding in what many of the other vehicle services in town offer: giant “party buses” where fights, vomiting and overcrowding are the norm.

Last year, Julie, like so many entrepreneurial Americans before her, decided she would like to go into business for herself and be her own boss rather than work for somebody else. So she applied for a certificate to operate a vehicle-for-hire service, as a city ordinance required. Julie expected the application process to be a simple formality, but it turned out to be no such thing; instead, it was a deliberate, insurmountable obstacle to pursuing her dream.

Under local law, the city was required to hold a hearing on Julie’s application — at which owners of existing vehicle services would be invited to offer their opinions on whether a newcomer should be allowed to enter the field. So at Julie’s hearing, her would-be competitors showed up and predictably insisted that, no, the city doesn’t need any new competition in this business because there are “enough” vehicles licensed already. They offered no evidence to support their claims, and Julie wasn’t given an opportunity to cross-examine them or offer evidence of her own in rebuttal.

City law allows the city manager to deny a vehicle-for-hire application if he doesn’t find an additional business “desirable” — in other words, he can arbitrarily deny any application on a whim. Apparently he didn’t find Julie’s business “desirable” because the city denied the application, saying that it saw no need for additional vehicles and that Julie hadn’t shown that her business would have enough cash flow to succeed. Never mind that the city never asked her about her projected cash flow.

Bloomington’s scheme is unconstitutional

The City of Bloomington’s licensing scheme violates the Illinois Constitution — and the Liberty Justice Center is therefore suing on Julie’s behalf to have the law struck down.

The city’s scheme violates the constitutional guarantee of due process of law because the procedures it follows are fundamentally unfair and are not designed to provide unbiased consideration of an aspiring vehicle service operator’s application. For example, the city’s scheme violated the Constitution’s guarantee of due process because:

  • The city didn’t allow Julie to cross-examine the witnesses who testified against her;
  • The city didn’t give Julie a chance to consider and rebut the testimony against her application;
  • The city communicated privately with owners of existing businesses about Julie’s application;
  • The city apparently considered evidence that wasn’t presented at Julie’s hearing in denying her application — since there was no evidence presented at her hearing that would justify denying it;
  • The city didn’t tell Julie in advance what procedures it would follow at her hearing;
  • The city didn’t tell Julie in advance why it was denying her application.

The city’s scheme also violates due process because it places arbitrary power in the hands of a single government official by allowing him or her to deny an application because he or she doesn’t find additional service “desirable.”

The law also violates the Constitution because its only purpose is to protect existing business owners — which is not a legitimate governmental purpose.

Illinois courts have long protected citizens’ right to earn a living free from arbitrary government interference. With this case, it is time for them to do so once again.

Complaint (February 28, 2012)

City of Bloomington’s Motion for Summary Judgement Part 1 Part 2 (April 12, 2013)

Julie Crowe’s Motion for Summary Judgment (April 12, 2013)

Julie Crowe’s Response in Opposition to Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (May 6, 2013) 

City of Bloomington’s Response in Opposition to Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment (May 6, 2013)  

Julie Crowe’s Reply in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment (May 20,2013)

Order Granting Summary Judgment in Favor of Julie Crowe (August 28, 2013)                 

 

 

 

The attorney for Crowe v. City of Bloomington is Jacob Huebert, Senior Attorney of the Liberty Justice Center.  For more information, or to arrange an interview with Jacob about the case, contact  Nathaniel Hamilton, Media Relations Associate, at (312) 346-5700 ext. 202 or by email at nhamilton@libertyjusticecenter.org