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Today in Albany

Wandering Dago suit heads to court

State and NYRA defend actions

September 17, 2013
Updated 7:40 p.m.
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Today in Albany


Valerie Zemba of the Wandering Dago food truck, left, takes care of a customer while Aurora Debrowski, 1, and her grandmother Felicia Cataldo of Ballston Spa, wait in line at the Food Truck Rodeo in Saratoga on July 30.
Valerie Zemba of the Wandering Dago food truck, left, takes care of a customer while Aurora Debrowski, 1, and her grandmother Felicia Cataldo of Ballston Spa, wait in line at the Food Truck Rodeo in Saratoga on July 30.

— A federal judge will hear oral arguments Thursday in the free speech lawsuit brought by the owners of the Wandering Dago food truck against New York state and the New York Racing Association.

Arguments for a preliminary injunction against the state Office of General Services and NYRA will take place before U.S. District Judge Mae A. D’Agostino at 10 a.m. in the federal courthouse in Albany.

The owners of the controversially named food truck are claiming a violation of their First Amendment right to free expression, after they were prevented from doing business at the Empire State Plaza and Saratoga Race Course this summer. Owners Andrea Loguidice and Brandon Snooks filed the lawsuit last month, alleging their truck was improperly barred from the two venues because state officials objected to the business name.

Legal Arguments

The latest court filings are available on the Around Saratoga blog

Also check out the original suit from the Wandering Dago

The lawsuit seeks compensation for an estimated $350,000 in lost revenue and an injunction barring the defendants from again banning the Wandering Dago from their properties.

In responding court papers, both the Office of General Services and NYRA defended their actions. NYRA contends the track is “non-public” property managed by NYRA and not subject to the same free speech rules as public property.

“Plaintiff’s removal [from Saratoga Race Course] was a permissible ban on ethnic and racial slurs,” wrote attorneys from Greenberg Traurig of Albany, the law firm representing NYRA.

At Empire State Plaza, the name on the side of the truck was only one of several issues the Office of General Services had with the Wandering Dago’s application to participate in the summer lunch vendor program, wrote William F. Bruso Jr., an OGS attorney. He also noted sandwiches on the menu use such derogatory ethnic terms as “polack” and “mick.”

“The state cannot be aligned in any respect with a vendor whose name and menu consist of racial or ethnic slurs,” Bruso wrote in an affidavit.

In turn, Wandering Dago attorney George F. Carpinello of Albany filed response papers saying the state and NYRA were unreasonable in preventing Wandering Dago from selling its food. The ethic terms are used humorously by the business and were not intended to offend, Carpinello has said.

The Wandering Dago was denied a permit in May to operate at Empire State Plaza. It was granted permission to operate at Saratoga Race Course, but was ordered to leave after the first day of racing July 19.

Carpinello noted the Wandering Dago’s name was included in publicity material before the track’s opening, so the business wasn’t initially considered “incompatible” with the track.

“The exclusion of plaintiff was not the result of NYRA ‘acting in a proprietary capacity’ so as to ‘preserve the Race Course for the use to which it was lawfully dedicated,’ but the result of state officials’ overriding of that ‘propriety’ decision because it offended those officials,” Carpinello wrote.

The Schenectady company has been at the center of controversy much of this summer over its name, which offends some Italian-Americans.

The Wandering Dago’s owners estimate they lost about $300,000 by being prevented from selling their barbecue and other foods during the 40-day race meet, plus about $50,000 from not being allowed to sell outside the Empire State Plaza, where many state workers eat lunch during the warmer months.

 
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