SmileDirectClub's antitrust lawsuit in Ala. can proceed

A U.S. district judge ordered on April 17 that SmileDirectClub's antitrust lawsuit against the Board of Dental Examiners of Alabama can proceed. However, some of the lawsuit's claims, including those against the dental board members in a nonofficial capacity, have been thrown out.

In fall 2018, the Alabama dental board asked SmileDirectClub staff to stop taking digital images of patients' mouths, claiming the company was conducting the unauthorized practice of dentistry because a dentist was not onsite. In response, SmileDirectClub and Blaine Leeds, DDS, the Tennessee dentist who oversaw the scans, filed the lawsuit.

SmileDirectClub and Dr. Leeds argued that the dental board's actions were primarily motivated by economic reasons. They allege the board's interpretation of the law prevents out-of-state dentists from serving Alabama patients and hinders commerce without serving a legitimate purpose. In response, the dental board argued the law is in place to protect the health and safety of patients and that an onsite dentist can address a number of health concerns, including a dislodged crown, allergic reactions, and proper infection control.

The questions at stake are whether the dental board has immunity against antitrust claims and whether the board's health and safety claims are substantive enough to counteract the potential burden to commerce. In his order, Judge R. David Proctor of the U.S.District Court for the North District of Alabama Southern Division wrote, "Discovery will be necessary to determine whether the board's regulation serves its asserted safety purposes and how severely the regulation burdens interstate commerce."

Both the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO) and SmileDirectClub claimed victory in the court order. The AAO, which filed a brief in support of the Alabama dental board, noted the court dismissed six of SmileDirect's 11 claims and that the remaining antitrust claims can only be made against the board members in their official capacities. SmileDirectClub stated the ruling was a victory in the company's mission to bring access to care to Americans.

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