By Amy Zimmer
DNAinfo News Editor
MANHATTAN — Paty's Taco Truck, faced with pressure from the police and forced to leave the loyal customer base it has cultivated on the Upper East Side over the past three years, is fighting back by suing the city.
Paty's was first ousted from its spot on Lexington Aveune and 86th Street in November, following a ticketing blitz, the arrest of the truck owner's son and the towing of the truck. When owner Patricia Monroy decided to return to the area in January, the truck was towed — twice in one week.
With her income down by 80 percent, Monroy is turning to the legal system: she wants to press the city into letting her return to the Upper East Side, and in doing so, hopes to set a precedent for mobile food vendors plying their trade from metered spots citywide.
Her lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Manhattan Supreme Court, is against the city, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and police officer Sean St. Clair. It sought a preliminary injunction to allow her to return to her usual vending spot until the case is resolved.
St. Clair had told the truck's lawyer (from the Street Vendor Project advocacy group) at the most recent towing, "If they're going to come back, we're going to issue more summonses and they'll get towed again," the complaint stated.
Some Upper East Siders, led by the East 86th Street Merchants and Residents Association, have long been complaining about food trucks, including Paty's. They have tried to force them from their already congested streets, where they claim trucks complete unfairly with brick-and-mortar businesses.
Each day the truck was towed, Paty's received a ticket for illegally selling "merchandise" from a metered spot. (The tickets were subsequently dismissed on technicalities.)
The suit claims that these tickets were "based on an inapplicable and outdated traffic regulation which prohibits the sale of merchandise, but not food, from a metered parking spot" and that enforcement of Paty's has been "unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious."
The Street Vendor Project, which is representing Paty's pro bono, contends that "merchandise" is sold by general vendors (and regulated by the Department of Consumer Affairs). It falls under a category that is distinct from food that is sold by vendors licensed by the Health Department.
"This is a very important case for all New York City mobile food vendors," Sean Basinski, of the Street Vendor Project, said. "We hope the court will reject the NYPD’s latest attempt to harass hard-working food entrepreneurs in New York City."
The city's Law Department had not yet received the legal papers. But a spokeswoman said, "We will review them thoroughly upon receipt."
Monroy — whose truck is now selling during the day on West 86th Street and Broadway and at night in Union Square — said she's on the brink of losing her business, threatened with the repossession of her truck for failure to pay the lease and eviction from the garage where she stores the truck.
If she didn't pay her truck's bills by Feb. 25, she would loose her business, she said.
Her grandson and daughter, who is studying law in Mexico, are also being threatened with eviction because Monroy has not been able to wire enough money, as she usually does, to support them.
"We just want justice," Monroy said through a translator. "I just want to prove to the city we're not breaking the law."