Equine Dentists Challenge Texas Law

A showdown is looming in Texas between a group of equine dentists and the Texas State Board of Veterinary Examiners over who should be allowed to work on a horse's teeth. The State Board fired the first shot in the exchange earlier this year by sending out cease and desist orders instructing several dentistry practitioners to close their practices or face sanctions.

Relying on the state veterinary practice act, which specifically includes dentistry in the statutory definition of veterinary medicine, the Board subsequently announced plans to initiate administrative charges against non-veterinarians who continue to practice equine dentistry. A group of equine dentists fired back on Aug. 28 by filing a lawsuit in Travis County District Court in Austin, challenging the Board's authority to regulate their profession.

The Institute for Justice, a non-profit public interest law firm based in Arlington, Va., represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit: equine dentists Carl Mitz, Dena Corbin, Randy Riedinger, and Brady George, along with horse owners Gary and Lisa Barnes and Tony and Carol Greaves. Mitz, Corbin, Riedinger, and George all have certifications attesting to their knowledge and skill as equine dentists, and support from their clients, but none of the plaintiffs are veterinarians.

The basis of the complaint, which only presents one side of the issue, are allegations that the veterinary practice act in Texas violates several provisions of the state constitution by infringing on the plaintiffs' rights to "economic liberty" by curtailing their employment opportunities and to equal protection under the law. The plaintiffs argue that they should be allowed to ply their trade with only reasonable government intrusion. The Institute for Justice also claims that regulation of equine dentists by the Board amounts to creation of an unconstitutional business monopoly by the state.

Regulation of equine dentists, farriers, and practitioners of complementary and alternative therapies is inconsistent from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Enforcement of existing laws also varies. Generally, though, Texas stands with the majority of the states on equine dentistry.

Veterinary practice acts in more than half of the states specifically include equine dentistry in the statutory definition of "veterinary medicine." In more than 20 other states, dentistry is specifically included with an exemption of some kind, usually for horse owners working on their own animals, or implied in a broad definition of "veterinary medicine."

In 2004, the American Association of Equine Practitioners issued a position statement that said, in part: "The practice of equine dentistry is an integral branch of equine veterinary medicine … As such, it falls within the purview of veterinary medicine."

The Institute for Justice initiated a similar lawsuit on behalf of equine dentists in Minnesota, which is pending. They also have successfully challenged government regulation of such diverse activities as direct interstate wine shipment, the sale of caskets, interior design, gardening and landscaping, selling books on a city street, and hair braiding.

About the Author

Milt Toby, JD

Milt Toby is an author and attorney who has been writing about horses and legal issues affecting the equine industry for more than 40 years. Former Chair of the Kentucky Bar Association's Equine Law Section, Milt has written eight nonfiction books, including national award winners Dancer’s Image and Noor. He teaches Equine Commercial Law in the University of Louisville's Equine Industry Program.

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