Sarrell drops lawsuit against Ala. Dental Association

Sarrell Dental is dropping its lawsuit against the Alabama Dental Association (ALDA) after Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signed a bill June 9 that exempts nondentists from oversight by the Alabama Board of Dental Examiners.

HB 451, passed June 2 by the state Legislature, requires nonprofit dental clinics like Sarrell to register with the Alabama Board of Dental Examiners. But it does not subject them to more stringent regulations, despite earlier attempts to force the company to get special permits.

Jeffrey Parker, CEO of Sarrell, had said that when the governor signed the bill, Sarrell would drop the antitrust lawsuit it filed against the association last year.

"I have instructed our general counsel to begin the process of filing the necessary paperwork to drop our state antitrust litigation versus the Alabama Dental Association," Parker said in a statement. "Over the past 17 months, the actions of a small group of dentists tarnished the good name of Alabama dentistry and the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB) School of Dentistry. It is our hope ending this litigation is seen as a goodwill gesture to begin the healing process for all."

In April 2010, the UAB dental school decided to remove its students from the Sarrell clinics, where they had been getting hands-on clinical training -- a move Parker said was due to a turf battle with private practitioners and pressure from alumni dentists. But the university said a lack of proper faculty supervision was the reason students were taken out of training rotation at the Sarrell clinics.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission subsequently launched an investigation into whether the ALDA engaged in unfair competition or deceptive acts by allegedly refusing to deal with Sarrell.

Sarrell then filed a lawsuit against the ALDA, claiming the organization had launched an "illegal conspiracy" to drive the clinic out of business.

Since initially opening in 2005, Sarrell has become the largest provider of Medicaid dental services in Alabama. The company has 11 clinics, staffed by 52 dentists and 27 hygienists. Sarrell saw revenues of $2.3 million in 2006 and is on track to reach $15 million this year, according to Parker.

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