30 July 2013

Law in Plain English: New York Statewide Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce v. New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

In September 2012, the New York City Board of Health approved a plan proposed by Mayor Bloomberg to limit the size of sugary soft drinks sold in restaurants, movie theaters, stadiums and arenas at 16 ounces a cup. Certain types of businesses were designated to be covered, while others were not (with little clarification of the difference). Likewise, certain drinks were excluded from the ban, even though they contained more sugar content than other included drinks. The New York Statewide Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and other businesses filed for an injunction to prevent New York City from enforcing the ban. New York Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling granted a permanent injunction, which prevented the city from enforcing the ban. In his opinion, Justice Tingling stated that the Board of Health exceeded its powers in promulgating the ban and in doing so, violated the separation of powers between the executive branch (the Mayor and the Board of Health) and the legislative branch (the City Council). Additionally, the policy was indiscriminately applied to some types of businesses and not others (and some types of drinks and not others) and was thus "arbitrary and capricious." The practical and very real impact of this decision is that the Mayor's soda ban is dead. Another proposal by the New York City Board of Health might be able to step over the "arbitrary and capricious" hurdle by eliminating the exceptions for certain types of businesses and drinks, but would probably not find the power to do so. The city appealed the ban, but any other new proposals would probably have to come from the City Council, not the New York City Board of Health.

Update (7/30/13): The First Department of the New York Supreme Court's Appellate Division ruled that the law, which would have prohibited those businesses from selling sodas and other sugary beverages larger than 16 ounces, "violated the state principle of separation of powers." The opinion starts on page 43 (of the PDF).
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