In March 2014, three animal massage therapists and the Institute for Justice filed a major constitutional lawsuit in Arizona asking if the government can take away someone’s job for no good reason. The lawsuit challenges the Arizona State Veterinary Medical Examining Board’s (Vet Board) irrational and anti-competitive requirement that animal massage therapists become licensed veterinarians.
Celeste Kelly, Grace Granatelli and Stacey Kollman are three Arizona entrepreneurs who decided to turn their love of animals into successful businesses. Each spent hundreds of hours learning about animal anatomy and developing massage techniques to obtain private certifications in animal massage.
But the Vet Board deemed their work criminal. According to the Vet Board, animal massage is the practice of veterinary medicine for which a veterinary license is required, and the Vet Board sent letters to Celeste, Grace, and others demanding they obtain veterinary licenses to continue practicing their craft. Obtaining a veterinary license requires spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend four years of veterinary school where animal massage is not even taught. The consequences of failing to comply with the Vet Board’s demand are severe—people face up to six months in jail and fines of $3,500 per violation.
In February 2017, IJ negotiated a victory with the Vet Board for Celeste, Grace, Stacey and every other massage practitioner in Arizona. The judge signed a consent judgment that prohibits the board from requiring veterinary licenses for any animal massage practitioner in Arizona and subjecting any animal massage practitioner to harassment or legal penalties for practicing their craft. The judgment brought a complete victory and a successful end to years of litigation.
The government should not be able to take away someone’s job for no good reason. But an Arizona state licensing board is trying to put hard-working entrepreneurs out of business for no reason other than to protect industry insiders from honest competition.
For at least a decade, Celeste Kelly, Grace Granatelli and Stacey Kollman have provided massage services to a variety of four-legged clients. For all three entrepreneurs, massage provides a new avenue to work with the performance and companion animals that they love while providing an increasingly sought-after service. But the Arizona State Veterinary Medical Examining Board (“Vet Board”) is attempting to fence them out, demanding that they obtain veterinary licenses or shut down their businesses.
In this lawsuit, Celeste, Grace and Stacey seek to vindicate the rights of animal massage therapists to earn an honest living free from unreasonable government interference. It is irrational to require animal massage therapists to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend four years at a veterinary school that does not even teach massage. The Arizona and U.S. constitutions protect the right to earn an honest living and forbid the government from imposing unreasonable requirements on the ability to engage in an activity.
Human massage therapists do not need a medical degree before they can work. And like human massage, animal massage is an all-natural, non-invasive activity that requires some education, hands-on training, and know-how around animals. It is meant to complement—not replace—veterinary care. But that doesn’t matter to the Vet Board, which seeks to extend its monopoly over animal care to its farthest reach.
Celeste, Grace and Stacey are fighting back against these abusive regulators. On March 5, 2014, they joined the Institute for Justice to file a lawsuit to secure their rights to earn an honest living.
Animal Massage Therapy
Though animal massage has existed in one form or another since animals were first domesticated thousands of years ago, the modern era of animal massage dates to the 1970s and an individual named Jack Meagher. 1 First learning massage in World War II from a German prisoner of war and subsequently through more formal training, Meagher became an accomplished human massage therapist, with many professional football and basketball players among his clients. He first stumbled onto horses by happenstance—a friend with a lame quarter horse approached Meagher, curious to see if Meagher’s massage techniques could be used on animals. The horse responded so positively to Meagher’s techniques that Meagher turned his focus to horses, and by the 1980s became so successful that he was the United States Equestrian Olympic Team’s equine massage therapist. Animal massage has flourished since—schools teaching massage techniques have sprung up throughout the country, while animals and their owners have reaped the benefits.
There are a variety of reasons why an owner might want to purchase massage services for their animal. Many of these are the same reasons that humans purchase massage services for themselves: to alleviate sore muscles, to prepare for or recuperate from an athletic endeavor, or simply to ease tension and relax. Many horses are performance animals, competing on national and international stages where they need to be in their best shape. Additionally, as animals age, owners often take extra efforts to maintain quality of life.
Three Arizona Entrepreneurs Striving to Succeed
Celeste Kelly has spent her entire life around horses and found it only natural to work with horses when looking for a career change. About ten years ago, she began to study equine massage. She successfully completed her first course in equine massage in 2003 from Aspen Equine Studies, which privately certified her. She continued to take courses and obtain private certifications, including a 120-hour course from a school in Connecticut, and a 20-hour seminar in Phoenix. Celeste built her business—Hands to Wholeness—from the ground up. She developed a devoted client base in and around Tucson, which expanded primarily through word-of-mouth referrals from clients and veterinarians. The goodwill she fosters is a testament to the quality of her services and her devotion to her craft.
Grace Granatelli was looking for a change of pace after a career in financial planning and decided to pursue canine massage as a side endeavor. Grace successfully completed a course in canine massage therapy from Equissage in 2004. Additionally, she has taken a number of seminars in massage techniques and animal safety, including the Arizona Humane Society’s Emergency Animal Medical Technician course. After obtaining her private certifications, Grace started volunteering with rescue agencies and adoption events to provide canine massage for ailing and neglected dogs. Over time, she built a client base from pet owners who noticed the positive effects of massage on their dogs. So she turned her volunteer hobby into a business, which she named Pawsitive Touch.
Stacey Kollman offers horseback riding instruction and horse training services, supplemented by equine massage. She devoted her career to horses over twenty years ago and opened her own business, Desert Horse Equestrian Services, over ten years ago. Stacey turned to massage in 2000, studying it and obtaining her certification from a school in Colorado. A lifelong rider, she finds that the horses often respond and perform better with massage. As a result, she incorporates massage into her training and provides massage as an à la carte option for her clients.
Through education, hard work and business savvy, Celeste, Grace and Stacey all successfully built their own businesses that provide services their clients want—a classic tale of entrepreneurship. None advertised or claimed to provide veterinary services. Indeed, each told their clients that they do not provide veterinary services and massage is a complement to, rather than a replacement for, veterinary services. But Arizona bureaucrats didn’t care.
The Vet Board Cracks Down
In the fall of 2012, Celeste’s practice was flourishing. She was busy massaging horses throughout Tucson and advertising her business when a letter from the Vet Board stopped her in her tracks. The Vet Board had opened an investigation into Celeste after receiving an anonymous complaint alleging that Celeste was illegally providing veterinary services without being a licensed veterinarian. Celeste’s response—that she provided massage services, not veterinary medicine—was to no avail. The Vet Board demanded that she stop massaging horses.
The Vet Board’s heavy-handed approach to Celeste wasn’t enough, however. They soon went after Grace with gusto. The Vet Board sent a letter to Grace—nearly identical to their letter to Celeste—stating that they had opened an investigation into allegations that Grace was illegally providing veterinary services without a veterinary license. Grace’s response that she only massaged dogs and did not provide veterinary medicine fell on deaf ears. The Vet Board ordered that she too stop offering her services.
Though Stacey has not yet received a letter from the Vet Board, she does not believe her luck will last and fears that one day soon she too will be ordered to stop.
Arizona’s Licensing Scheme
Arizona defines the practice of veterinary medicine so broadly that it encompasses nearly everything done to an animal for a fee, including the most ancillary services, regardless of the necessary skill or respective risk of the procedure. 2 While Arizona law does not specifically target animal massage, the Vet Board has embraced the expansive language of the statute and abandoned any modicum of moderation. Dog groomers beware: You may be next.
If the Vet Board determines that an unlicensed person is engaging in the practice of veterinary medicine, it can impose civil penalties of $1000 per violation.
While the definition of veterinary medicine is extensive, it is not all-encompassing. 3 First, Arizona exempts equine dentistry from its definition of veterinary medicine. Just like massage, equine dentistry is a complementary therapy that requires specialized training, hands-on education and know-how around horses. Equine dentists must comply with certain registration requirements, but need not be licensed veterinarians in order to provide their services. Second, Celeste, Grace and Stacey would be perfectly in accordance with the law if they merely stopped charging a fee for their services. Arizonans are free to practice animal massage so long as they do not make a living doing so. The act of accepting a fee transforms their services from something that can be legally performed by anyone to something that requires a veterinary license, demonstrating that the Vet Board does not consider the practice of animal massage to be much of a health or safety risk.
Only licensed veterinarians may practice veterinary medicine. 4 To become licensed, applicants must graduate from an accredited veterinary school, pass rigorous national and state licensing examinations and pay a $400 fee. 5 Only 28 veterinary schools in the United States are fully accredited, and none are in Arizona. 6 Veterinary school costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend, 7 and spans four years, yet no school is required to teach massage, and it is not necessary to demonstrate knowledge of or proficiency in massage to graduate or become licensed. 8 There is simply no good reason for the Vet Board’s orders forcing animal massage therapists out of business.
Arizonans who practice veterinary medicine without a license are subject to strict penalties. If the Vet Board determines that an unlicensed person is engaging in the practice of veterinary medicine, it has a variety of enforcement options it may take, including imposing civil penalties of $1000 per violation and requesting that a government attorney file criminal charges. 9 If criminal charges are sought and the person is found guilty of practicing veterinary medicine without a license, she is guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor 10 and faces six months in jail and $2500 in fines. 11
Arizona’s outrageous licensing scheme puts individuals with experience and skill out of work, while forcing animal owners to pay more for extra care they don’t want or need. Because veterinarians are not required to learn how to massage animals in veterinary school, they must specifically seek out massage training to learn proper massage techniques. Few do, and few, if any, veterinarians offer massage services in Arizona. As a result, animal owners are left with fewer choices for their pets’ care and more expensive veterinary bills.
The Constitutional Right to Earn an Honest Living
The Arizona and U.S. constitutions protect the right to earn an honest living, and that right is violated by a government that protects veterinary industry insiders. This protection is found in the Equal Privileges and Immunities and the Due Process clauses of Article II to the Arizona Constitution and the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The notions of due process and privileges or immunities prevent the government from arbitrarily interfering with people’s ability to earn an honest living in their chosen occupation. These concepts require that any restriction on economic liberty be reasonable, that there be some means-ends fit between the regulations the government imposes and the harm it seeks to prevent. The Arizona Supreme Court stated: “[I]ndividual liberties can be sacrificed only upon a clear showing of a benefit to the public commensurate with the loss of individual rights.” 12
Here, the Vet Board’s orders are not rational because they are not tailored to protect animals or their owners from harm. Veterinarians receive little or no training in animal massage during veterinary school, and are not required to know anything about massage in order to graduate. Forcing massage therapists to become veterinarians adds no additional knowledge of, or training in, massage techniques.
Arizona’s Occupational Licensing Problem
Unfortunately, Celeste’s, Grace’s and Stacey’s dilemma is only one example of the broader epidemic of occupational licensing. Occupational licensing laws restrict entry into professions by requiring government permission to work in a particular field, thus placing substantial barriers on job seekers. They extend beyond highly specialized professions, such as law and medicine, and into professions where there is simply no justification for restrictions on entry. Often, the restrictions target low- and moderate-income occupations that would otherwise provide a chance at entrepreneurship, thus directly hindering job creation. In the 1950s, five percent of the workforce was required to obtain a government license to do their job. Today that figure exceeds thirty percent. 13
Occupational licensing laws make it more difficult for people, often of modest means, to start or change careers, resulting in higher prices for consumers. Licensing boards are state agencies empowered with the coercive authority of the government and are typically comprised of members of the regulated profession. Thus, licensing boards have the power and the incentive to shut out competitors. Indeed, this is the case with the Vet Board itself—by statute, two thirds of the Vet Board must hold a license granted by the Vet Board. 14
While a problem nationwide, Arizona ranks among the worst of all states in terms of the number of low-income occupations licensed and the burdens of obtaining the license. 15 The Institute for Justice has fought back for over ten years to protect the legacy of liberty in the Grand Canyon State. The Institute has successfully represented eyebrow threaders, 16 an African hairbraider, 17 handy men 18 and landscape maintenance workers 19 when Arizona’s laws violated their rights to earn an honest living. Until there is systematic reform, entrepreneurs will continue to be harmed through fewer job opportunities, and consumers will face higher prices and less competition.
The Plaintiffs are: Celeste Kelly, a privately certified equine massage therapist and resident of Tucson, AZ; Grace Granatelli, a privately certified canine massage therapist and resident of Scottsdale, AZ; and Stacey Kollman, a privately certified equine massage therapist and resident of Tucson, AZ.
The Defendants are the executive director of the Arizona State Veterinary Medical Examining Board and the members of the Arizona State Veterinary Medical Examining Board, all of whom are sued in their official capacities. 20
The Litigation Team
The Institute for Justice
The Institute for Justice is the national law firm for liberty and the nation’s leading legal advocate for economic liberty. The Institute has challenged irrational government requirements on behalf of casket-building monks in Louisiana, a Maryland animal massage therapist, equine dentists in Minnesota and Texas, and other entrepreneurs nationwide. For more on the Institute for Justice and its work, visit www.ij.org.
For more information, contact:
Nico Perrino Communications CoordinatorInstitute for Justice901 Glebe Road, Suite 900Arlington, VA 22203(703) 682-9320 ext. 245 email@example.com
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