Arlington, Virginia—Late yesterday, 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 eliminating competition.”
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 rule making 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.”