Arlington, Va — A judge in Austin, Texas
struck down an effort by the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical
Examiners to put horse teeth floaters out of business and leave the
state’s approximately one million horses without proper dental
care. The court ruled that the Board violated state law when it
changed its policy on horse teeth floating.
“The judge made clear
to the Vet Board that enough is enough,” said Clark Neily, a senior
attorney with the Institute for Justice, which filed the lawsuit in
August 2007. “The ruling means that Texas’ horse teeth floaters
are free to go back to work.”
“Floating” is the term
for filing horses’ teeth to ensure proper length and alignment.
Unlike most animals, horses’ teeth grow throughout their lives.
Their teeth must be filed down every 6-12 months to prevent their
molars from developing long enamel “points” that can prevent them from
chewing food properly. For centuries, the practice has been
performed by specialized “teeth floaters,” whose knowledge of equine
dentistry often far exceeds that of veterinarians. Floaters play
a vital role in Texas’s horse industry.
IJ client Carl Mitz,
one of the nation’s leading practitioners of horse teeth floating,
applauds the ruling. “From the very beginning,” said Mitz, “my
clients and I knew the Board’s actions to put me out of business had
nothing to do with quality and safety but everything to do with
Until recently, the
Texas Vet Board acknowledged and approved teeth floating by
non-veterinarians, recognizing that “there are not enough veterinarians
skilled in equine dentistry to meet the public’s needs.”
But in the fall of
2006, the president of the state veterinary association demanded that
the Vet Board shut down non-veterinarian floaters and force them, in
effect, to turn over their thriving businesses to state-licensed
veterinarians. Without consulting the public and without
notifying horse teeth floaters, the Vet Board complied with the
veterinarians’ request and declared bureaucratic war on
non-veterinarian teeth floaters.
The Board sent waves of
cease-and-desist letters to floaters without determining how the new
policy would affect horse owners and in complete disregard of
state-mandated rulemaking procedures. The Board even cancelled a
public “stakeholder” meeting that had been set for April 30, 2007,
based on one board member’s cynical concern that a public hearing might
prompt legislative intervention on behalf of the floaters.
At first, the Board
denied that it had changed its teeth-floating policy, stalling the
lawsuit for two years. The board later acknowledged that it had
changed its teeth-floating policy, but claimed that its actions could
not be challenged in court.
“Economic liberty is
one of our essential freedoms,” said Neily. “The government needs
real reasons for licensing horse teeth floating or, for that matter,
any occupation. This case shows that when the government violates
the law, entrepreneurs can fight back and win.”