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Goldwater Institute Appeals Decision to Shut Down Windshield Repair Business

July 14, 2015

Longmont, Colo.—On June 11, 2015, Rich Smith of Longmont, Colorado, was sentenced to one year of probation, a $385 fine, and a 20-day suspended jail sentence. His crime? Operating a windshield chip repair business out of a van parked on his private property. Today, the Goldwater Institute filed an appeal of Mr. Smith’s conviction.

Mr. Smith had served the community for years, but after a competitor complained the City began looking for ways to shut down his business. The City cited Mr. Smith for operating a mobile business even though his repair van is permanently parked and customers come to him. After receiving several zoning citations that didn’t apply to Mr. Smith’s business, he was ultimately hauled into court on an entirely different set of violations.

“In Longmont, there’s no need to work to win business from your competitors by having better service and lower prices, you can just complain to the government and have your competitor’s perfectly legitimate, legal business shut down,” said Courtney Van Cott, staff attorney at the Goldwater Institute. The Goldwater Institute is representing Smith in his appeal of his criminal conviction.

Longmont allows some of the nationally known windshield repair and replacement services, like Safelite Auto Glass, to operate in the city by sending technicians out in a van to a customer’s home or work. They also allow mobile food trucks to operate. Other businesses like caterers, handyman services, and plumbers are also allowed to operate out of a van or truck where supplies are stored and the business has no storefront.

“No one at the City has been able to explain why Mr. Smith’s business must be shut down, but others just like it can operate throughout the city, including other windshield repair vans and food trucks,” said Courtney Van Cott.

Even though Longmont allows other businesses just like Smith’s to operate, the City said he is required to open a brick and mortar business. But an increasingly large number of businesses have no brick and mortar location that customers can visit, like Amazon.com, Uber, and Airbnb. They are mobile or virtual. The requirement to have a physical location would be devastating to today’s economy.

Threatening to lock up entrepreneurs and banning their perfectly safe businesses for no reason is not just bad policy, it is unconstitutional. Americans are protected by the federal and state constitutions from being singled out by the government.

“The government has the power to regulate businesses to make sure customers and workers are safe and that neighborhoods are protected, but in many cases, they simply shut businesses or whole industries down,” said Van Cott. Cities and states across the country have moved to ban businesses like Uber, street vendors, and food trucks. “We can protect people and the character of a community while still allowing new businesses and the economy to flourish.”

Ultimately, consumers benefit from having new businesses in the community because they have more choices and lower prices. “If governments can shut down businesses when their competition complains, customers will pay higher prices and people will be put out of work. That’s not good for anyone,” said Van Cott.

The Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation is appealing Rich Smith’s criminal conviction to the Boulder County District Court.

Read more about Smith v. City of Longmont here.

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