Teeth Floater Files Suit Against Veterinary Group

Jim Johnson has been floating horses' teeth in Minnesota for some 20 years. His son, Christopher, would like to join the family business, but he cannot do so without violating state law. Enacted a year ago, Minnesota Statute § 156.075 defines "equine teeth floating" as the use of handheld and non-motorized equipment to remove enamel points from teeth, to re-establish normal molar angles, and to generally shape and smooth the teeth where normal wear does not occur.

The statute requires that any non-veterinarian wishing to provide equine teeth floating services must be certified by the International Association of Equine Dentistry (IAED) and must work under the direct or indirect supervision of a licensed veterinarian. A grandfather provision for practitioners with 10 years' experience allows the elder Johnson to continue to work without IAED certification, but Chris does not qualify for the exemption.

Chris Johnson's plight came to the attention of the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter, a public interest law firm with headquarters in Virginia and other chapters in Arizona and Washington. Described by lead counsel Lee McGrath as a "free market, Laissez faire" organization, the Institute for Justice in August filed a lawsuit against the Minnesota Board of Veterinary Medicine on Johnson's behalf.

The lawsuit raises eight separate, but related, claims under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees due process of law and equal protection, and the state constitution of Minnesota. In essence, the complaint alleges that enforcement of Minnesota's veterinary practice act in general, and the application of Minnesota Statute § 156.075 specifically, deprive Johnson of his "occupational freedom" and his "economic liberty."

"Chris Johnson has only two alternatives," McGrath said. "He could become a veterinarian or he could become certified by the IAED. Neither one is practical in this situation." Veterinary school is expensive and time consuming, McGrath explained, adding that, "Vets get very little training in floating teeth with manual equipment. And it's fundamentally unfair to force Chris to jump through the hoops to get a certification from the IAED. Before he can take the certification test he must perform 250 floats under the supervision of an IAED member. He can't legally do that here, and even if he could there are no IAED members in Minnesota."

Minnesota's veterinary practice act specifically exempts the dehorning of cattle and goats, the castration of cattle, swine, goats, and sheep, or the docking of sheep. McGrath argues that manual teeth floating should enjoy a similar exemption.

"The veterinary practice act was written by the legislature to protect the public," said Minnesota Board of Veterinary Medicine Executive Director John King, DVM. "The amendment actually loosens the act by allowing non-veterinarians to float horses' teeth if they can prove their competence and provide some accountability." King added that although the IAED was the only international dentistry association with appropriate standards that the legislature was aware of, a request could be made for the consideration of other certifications.

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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