Wandering Dago owners lose round 1 in court
Judge denies injunction against state agencies
ALBANY The owners of the Wandering Dago food truck lost their bid for a preliminary injunction against two state agencies who denied them permission to sell food at two of the region’s busiest spots during the summer.
U.S. District Court Judge Mae D’Agostino rejected the motion filed by an attorney for truck owners Andrea Loguidice and Brandon Snooks in August after deciding they were still able to operate their Schenectady-based business despite being snubbed by the state to sell food at the Saratoga Race Course and the Empire State Plaza over the summer. In reaching her decision, the judge also faulted the owners for not bringing their case to court earlier, since their original application to the state was denied May 20 and their lawsuit wasn’t filed until Aug. 27.
“[Loguidice and Snooks’] three-month delay in filing this action and seeking injunctive relief weighs heavily against a finding of irreparable harm,” she wrote in a 20-page ruling issued Friday.
D’Agostino’s rejection isn’t the end of the Wandering Dago’s case. Still, the injunction would have prohibited the state Office of General Services and the New York Racing Association from banning the truck from future contracts on the basis of its name.
Many Italian-Americans consider the term “dago” offensive. Snooks and Loguidice say it is intended to be humorous. In September, Snooks said the term derives from the time when Italian laborers were paid as the “day goes.”
Loguidice and Snooks allege the company’s First Amendment rights to free expression were violated when state officials prevented them from doing business at the track and the plaza. In addition to the injunction, they are seeking $350,000 in damages for lost sales.
The owners say they contacted the state about participating in the plaza’s summer outdoor lunch program in February, applied for a permit and were verbally told their application was approved. But on May 20, they were told a different story, according to their lawsuit.
OGS attorney William F. Bruno Jr. told the owners their application was late and incomplete, plus their business name had been deemed offensive. The lawsuit alleges their application was both on time and complete.
The Wandering Dago’s contract with NYRA remained in place until the truck was ordered off the grounds July 19 — the first day of the 2013 thoroughbred meet. In the lawsuit, they claim they had engaged in roughly seven months of negotiation with Centerplate — the private company that manages the track’s food vendors — and the Wandering Dago name was featured in promotional materials before the truck was ordered away from the track.
During a preliminary hearing in the case, an attorney representing the food truck revealed an email from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s top racing adviser, expressing concerns about the Wandering Dago food truck’s name just hours before it was ordered to leave the track.
Bennett Liebman, deputy secretary for gaming and racing, sent a missive to NYRA President and CEO Christopher Kay the afternoon of July 19, expressing concern about the name. Specifically, he believed the presence of the term “dago” on a food truck could land racing officials in hot water.
“I just believe that people will find the name of the truck both offensive and insensitive, and that fallout for authorizing this truck will inevitably land on NYRA,” he wrote in the three-paragraph email. “I see this as a problem waiting to blow up.”
Though the email didn’t suggest corrective action, a NYRA official called the truck’s owners and told them they had to leave less than eight hours after it was sent. George Carpinello, the attorney representing the food truck operators, offered the email as proof a high state official inappropriately intervened in a race course decision because he found the name offensive.