A Texas-Sized Battle For Economic Liberty

October 1, 2007

IJ attorneys Clark Neily and Lee McGrath, (left and right) join with our clients and supporters in Austin to launch IJ’s challenge to the state’s government-enforced veterinary cartel.

By Lee McGrath

The Institute for Justice is yet again chomping at the bit to sue a veterinary licensing board that needs its power bridled.

One year ago, IJ’s Minnesota Chapter filed suit to vindicate the economic liberty of horse tooth “floaters”—those who file horses’ teeth for a living—when the state board tried to shut them down.  (We expect a ruling in that case any day.)  And just this past summer, IJ sued another veterinary board—this one in Texas—that was abusing its power and denying equine dental practitioners their right to earn an honest living in their trade free from arbitrary, unreasonable or monopolistic government regulations.

On August 28, IJ filed suit against the Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners on behalf of four equine dental practitioners and two horse owners who buy dental services.  In the suit, IJ asked the Travis County District Court in Austin to strike down, under the Texas Constitution, a law decreeing that only government-licensed veterinarians may work on horses’ teeth, despite the fact that floating horse teeth is a procedure that most veterinarians have never performed and for which they have no training.

In late February 2007, the State Board sent cease-and-desist letters to various equine dental practitioners, including the four IJ represents in the current court challenge, but our clients refused to be bucked out of their trade.  As opposition mounted to the State Board’s action, the Board canceled a public meeting to receive input from horse owners who were outraged by the new policy.  The Board then announced it would commence legal proceedings in September against equine dental practitioners who refused to stop working, threatening them with fines of up to $5,000 per day and even jail time for refusing to give up their vocations.  IJ’s suit, filed days before the state was to act, is a pre-emptive strike to keep these entrepreneurs free and in business.

IJ’s clients believe strongly that horse owners, not bureaucrats, know best how to care for their horses, including their horses’ teeth, and they are willing to defend that principle in court.

Top, IJ client and miniature horse breeder Carl Mitz shares a visual aid at the launch of our lawsuit. Below, IJ client Gary Barnes, left, is a miniature horse dental practitioner. He was joined at our press conference announcing our lawsuit by 11-time world barrel racing champion Charmayne James, center, and IJ Client Dena Corbin, right.

Among these is Carl Mitz, a third-generation horseman who lives near Austin.  He has treated the teeth of more than 100,000 horses and is recognized as the nation’s premier dental practitioner for miniature horses.  Dena Corbin of Fort Worth is the president of North Texas Equine Dentistry and has provided dental services to 15,000 standard and miniature horses.  Randy Riedinger founded and operates an equine dentistry school west of Fort Worth that has trained more than 120 practitioners, including a number of veterinarians.  Randy doesn’t just teach; he is a practitioner too, and he has floated the teeth of 40,000 horses.  Brady George studied at Randy’s school and has serviced the teeth of more than 2,500 horses.

IJ also represents two of Carl Mitz’s clients, Gary Barnes and Tony Greaves, who have ranches in Texas with miniature horses.  Both consider Carl’s services vital to the well-being of their horses and their businesses, which involve breeding and selling miniature horses to customers around the world.  As Barnes explains, “I’ve never met a veterinarian adequate in equine dentistry, and both my father and grandfather were veterinarians.”  Greaves is one of the nation’s largest breeders of miniature horses, which have won multiple national championships.  Likewise, he has never found a veterinarian capable of meeting the dental needs of his 300-head herd.  In fact, before he found Mitz, Greaves would regularly fly a nonveterinarian equine dental practitioner all the way from Brazil to take care of his horses’ teeth.

Barnes and Greaves’ unsatisfactory experiences with veterinarians are no surprise.  Veterinarians typically do not learn to treat horses’ teeth in school, and equine dentistry is almost never tested on the national licensing exam.  Nonetheless, the Texas State Board absurdly and arbitrarily requires a veterinary degree in order to float horses’ teeth.

Equally absurd is that Texas’ licensing act does not apply to dental work done by the owner of the horse or his employee.  This means that an owner’s untrained, inexperienced ranch hand may legally float horses’ teeth, but highly skilled practitioners like Carl, Dena, Randy and Brady may not.

As in Minnesota, the obvious explanation for Texas’ persecution of equine dental practitioners is economic protectionism.  Rather than looking out for the best interests of horses and horse owners, the Board is protecting the financial interests of veterinarians, who are using their political power to corral competition through government force in a number of states.  Indeed, one member of the Texas Veterinary Board has even expressed the view that equine dental practitioners are “chipping away” at the veterinary monopoly and must be stopped through regulation.

But such regulations are a lose-lose-lose for entrepreneurs, owners and horses.  They put people with hands-on training and skills out of work, while forcing horse owners to pay more for lower quality care.  Texans deserve better, and so do their horses.  The Institute for Justice is committed to restoring a little more liberty to the Lone Star State.

Lee McGrath is executive director of IJ’s Minnesota Chapter.

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