By Wendy Parmet
Public health law took another hit this week. In a unanimous decision (starting on p. 22), the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court affirmed a trial court’s earlier ruling striking down the New York City Board of Health’s ban on the sale of large sugary drinks.
In an opinion authored by Justice Dianne T. Renwick, the appeals court ruled that the Board of Health had “failed to act within the bounds of its lawfully delegated authority” in promulgating the so-called soda ban. Relying primarily on the Court of Appeals’ decision in Boreali v. Axelrod, the Appellate Division concluded that the soda ban was unlawful because 1) in framing the regulation, the board took into account factors other than public health; 2) the regulation was not an act of interstitial rule making; 3) the regulation concerned an issue that the legislature had considered and had failed to reach a decision; and 4) the regulations did not require expertise in the field of public health.
Although the Appeals Court did not repeat the trial court’s spurious suggestion that the board’s powers were greater when applied to infectious diseases than chronic diseases, it reiterated the erroneous belief in a binary distinction between public health factors and social and economic factors. In the court’s view, the only factors a health department should consider are “health factors,” which seem to exist totally apart from the social and economic environment. Any consideration of social and economic factors, including as the court noted, consideration of behavioral economics, is outside the scope and beyond the expertise of public health.
This dichotomization of public health and “non-health factors” relies on a false understanding of public health expertise. Read More