Victory for Maryland Entrepreneur in Animal Massage Dispute

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · July 30, 2009

Arlington, Va.—At a hearing today in Montgomery County Circuit Court, Judge David Boynton declared that Maryland equine-massage entrepreneur Mercedes Clemens is now free to return to the occupation she loves.  Judge Boynton recognized that the Maryland Board of Chiropractic Examiners has no authority to regulate animal massage and that it was “illegal” for the Board to force Mercedes to stop her practice.

“All Mercedes has ever asked for is the assurance that she can work in the job she loves without being illegally put out of business at the whim of regulatory bureaucrats,” said Mercedes’ attorney Paul Sherman of the Institute for Justice (IJ), the nation’s leading legal advocate for economic liberty.  “This ruling grants her exactly what she wanted and is a wonderful victory for all Maryland entrepreneurs who want to provide these services.”

Mercedes Clemens has a thriving massage practice in Rockville that, until recently, offered both human and animal massage.  In addition to being a licensed massage therapist for people, Mercedes has more than 30 years of practical experience as a horse owner and rider, has been privately certified in equine massage and has even taught animal massage to others.

Despite these qualifications, the Maryland State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners teamed up with the Maryland Board of Chiropractic Examiners and ordered her to stop practicing animal massage and to take down the parts of her website offering the service.

In June 2008, Mercedes teamed up with the Institute for Justice and filed a lawsuit to defend her right to earn an honest living free from unreasonable government regulations.  A month later, the Maryland State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners backpedaled on its position that only licensed veterinarians may perform animal massage.  Nonetheless, the Chiropractic Board refused to acknowledge Mercedes’ right to economic liberty.

“I love that I can finally get back to business,” said Mercedes.  “All I’ve ever wanted is the right to work.  I never asked for a bailout or even monetary damages, just the freedom to earn an honest living in the occupation I love.  Today that freedom was restored to me.”

Clemens, who was threatened with criminal prosecution and thousands of dollars in fines for massaging horses in Maryland, has received international media attention.  A Washington Post feature that includes video footage of Mercedes is available online:

“Regulatory boards across the country are out of control, abusing their power to shut down honest entrepreneurs,” said IJ Senior Attorney Scott Bullock.  “The Institute for Justice is committed to correcting this injustice by ensuring that these boards are held accountable for their actions and forbidden from engaging in illegal activities.”

IJ President and General Counsel Chip Mellor said, “This lawsuit is an important part of the Institute for Justice’s nationwide campaign to restore economic liberty to all Americans by defending their constitutional right to earn an honest living.  Mercedes’ victory today marks a meaningful step in that direction.”