Affirming two lower court decisions, New York’s highest court invalidated a New York City regulation limiting the size of soda containers sold at restaurants. Leading trade groups whose members would have been affected by the rule hailed the decision.
One of Michael Bloomberg’s most controversial regulatory efforts is going away. The former New York City mayor’s ban on oversized soda containers at restaurants failed the final phase of a legal challenge this week, with the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, ruling 4 to 2 that the city’s health board didn’t have the authority to impose the ban. The ruling affirmed the conclusions of two lower courts in the case.
In New York Statewide Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce v. New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the court found that the city’s board of health had exceeded its authority in adopting the ban, which limited the size of sugary soft drinks to 16 fluid ounces and which Bloomberg and the board said would help fight obesity. “By choosing among competing policy goals, without any legislative delegation or guidance, the board engaged in law-making and thus infringed upon the legislative jurisdiction of the City Council of New York,” Judge Eugene F. Pigott Jr. wrote in his opinion [PDF]. The ruling drew a passionate dissent from Judge Susan Read, who argued that the ruling “misapprehends, mischaracterizes, and thereby curtails the powers of the New York City Board of Health to address the public health threats of the early 21st century.”
The case had been watched closely by business groups, particularly the American Beverage Association and the National Restaurant Association.
“If we want to get serious about obesity and diabetes, it starts with education—not laws and regulation,” ABA wrote in a statement. “We look forward to collaborating with city leaders on solutions that will have a meaningful and lasting impact on New Yorkers and families across the country.”
The National Restaurant Association, meanwhile, noted that the ban would have hit its members hard. “This is an important victory for the thousands of restaurant operators and industry suppliers serving New York City who would have experienced financial hardships had the ban been enacted,” NRA President and CEO Dawn Sweeney said in a statement. Sweeney added that the decision was a victory for consumers’ “freedom of choice.”