BLOOMINGTON — A woman barred from running her own taxi company said Tuesday she’s pursuing a lawsuit against the city of Bloomington, arguing it arbitrarily dismissed her request and violated her constitutional rights.
The city in 2011 rejected Julie Crowe’s request to add a 15-seat van to the city’s mix of taxis and buses after competitors argued the market was already saturated.
Crowe plans to challenge the city’s ordinance listing allowable reasons for denying certificates.
Crowe will be represented at no cost by the Liberty Justice Center, a new law firm funded by the Illinois Policy Institute, which bills itself as a free-market think tank. Her case is the organization’s first.
Her attorney, Jacob Huebert, said the ordinance in question is “a deliberate, insurmountable obstacle to pursuing (Crowe’s) dreams.” He said the only way to know if the market is saturated is to “let the market work. … Julie’s willing to put her money where her mouth is.”
The ordinance says the city manager can make a decision on an application based in part on whether it is “desirable and in the public interest” — a clause Huebert said is too subjective.
The organization argues the “sole basis” for the decision was “a desire to protect a discrete economic group from economic competition, which is not a legitimate governmental purpose.”
Thus, the city’s reasons behind the denial can’t survive a “rational basis test” applied to other municipalities’ decisions challenged in past court cases, the organization states.
Illinois Municipal League attorney Brian Day said that test “is a pretty hard burden for a plaintiff to overcome.” He said cities have “broad authority” to license and regulate a whole list of occupations, including taxis.
Day was speaking in general terms. The league has taken no role or stand in this specific case.
Before making its decision, the city took testimony from other taxi and bus owners on current market conditions. But Huebert said Crowe didn’t have a chance to rebut, which denied her the Illinois Constitution’s guarantee of due process, and the opposition provided no factual evidence to prove the claims.
City attorney Todd Greenburg said, “The city believes the record justifies the city’s actions.” He said he hasn’t had time to review other allegations in the lawsuit.
Greg Bedell, another attorney for Crowe, said he hopes the case can establish a precedent applicable to similar cases throughout the state.
Day said a broad challenge to municipalities’ regulatory powers “would be problematic for democracy in Illinois.”
“The entire purpose that we elect our public officials is to make decisions,” Day said. “To have some group say ‘Well, we want the decision to be set in stone constitutionally and no discretion of elected officials’ defeats the purpose of having a democratic process.”