North Caroline State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Sovereign Immunity
  • Date Filed: February 25, 2015
  • Case #: 13-534
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Kennedy, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Alito, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Scalia and Thomas, JJ., joined.
  • Full Text Opinion

State immunity does not protect agencies run by active market participants from antitrust laws unless that agency is under state supervision.

The Petitioner is a state agency tasked with licensing and regulating medical dentistry in North Carolina and is comprised of eight board members, at least six of which must be practicing dentists. Teeth-whitening is not considered by the state to be a medical procedure, but the Board issued cease and desist orders to non-medical services offering whitening to the point that only dentists were offering teeth whitening.

Following an administrative complaint, an Administrative Law Judge for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) denied the Petitioner’s defense that it was protected by state immunity, and ruled that the Board’s actions violated antitrust laws. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the decision by the ALJ, and now the Supreme Court of the United States affirms the Fourth Circuit Decision.

The Court reasons that when a state agency is comprised of professionals from the profession which it is meant to regulate, it does not automatically benefit from state immunity to antitrust laws. Based on decisions in prior cases, the court decided that when a state agency is run by active market participants, it must be actively supervised by the state in order to benefit from state immunity. The court also states that an active state supervisor must review agency decisions and have the ability to overrule and modify decisions. No such supervision was present in this case.

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