SCOTUS Review of NC Board Case 'A Very Big Deal' to Providers

John Commins, March 5, 2014

A legal matter in North Carolina, concerning whether or not a state board is exempt from federal antitrust laws, could have far-ranging effects, which explains the interest in the case from the AMA and other provider associations.

The U.S. Supreme Court said this week that it would review an antitrust ruling against a dentistry board in North Carolina in a case that could have broad implications for state regulatory boards overseeing professional activities, including those of physicians and hospitals.

The case, NC Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission, asks whether or not a state board is exempt from federal antitrust laws under the "state action" doctrine.

The North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners had been the subject of an administrative complaint by the Federal Trade Commission in 2010 for violations of the FTC Act after the board banned non-dentists operating in mall kiosks and other venues from performing discount teeth-whitening procedures.

A federal district court rejected the board's initial complaint. Last spring the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit sided with the FTC and noted that the dental examiners board was composed of dentists who stood to gain financially by restricting the practice.

"At the end of the day, this case is about a state board run by private actors in the marketplace taking action outside of the procedures mandated by state law to expel a competitor from the market," the appeals court said in its ruling.

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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