By Daniel Wiessner
ALBANY, New York (Reuters) - New York state's highest court agreed on Thursday to hear Mayor Michael Bloomberg's appeal of a decision striking down a ban on large sugary drinks in New York City, setting up the final showdown over one of the outgoing mayor's most controversial policies.
The Court of Appeals did not say why it had agreed to hear the appeal.
The law would have barred restaurants, movie theaters, food carts and other businesses regulated by the city's health department from selling sodas and other sugary beverages larger than 16 ounces (473 ml). In March, just one day before it was to take effect, a state judge found the policy to be illegal.
A mid-level state appeals court agreed in July that the city's mayoral-appointed health board had exceeded its authority when it approved the new regulation. It also noted that loopholes would have exempted grocery and convenience stores, such as 7-Eleven, known for its 64-ounce (1.9 liter) Big Gulp, as well as high-calorie milkshakes and coffee drinks, such as Starbucks Frappuccinos.
The ruling was a victory for companies including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Dr Pepper Snapple, which had argued that the law would do little to address obesity while imposing unnecessary costs. The restaurant industry and several business groups also had filed papers in support of the lawsuit.
Bloomberg said on Thursday he expects the state's top court to overturn the lower-court rulings.
The soda ban "would help save lives, and we are confident the Appeals court will uphold the Board of Health's rule," he said in a statement, noting that excessive soda consumption is linked to obesity and diabetes, which kill at least 5,000 New Yorkers each year.
A spokesman for the American Beverage Association, a trade group and the lead plaintiff in the case, said the group looked forward to a final decision on the ban.
The city had argued that the lower appeals court had ignored decades of case law establishing that the health board has unique powers to regulate public health.
"(The Court of Appeals) has long recognized that the board of health is not a typical administrative agency, but rather, is an entity with legislative authority," city lawyer Fay Ng wrote.
During his three terms, Bloomberg has made public health a signature issue, prohibiting smoking in restaurants, bars and parks; banning trans fats; and requiring chain restaurants to post calorie counts.
(Editing by Scott Malone, Gunna Dickson and Bob Burgdorfer)