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U.S. Supreme Court to rule on NC dental board v. FTC

The United States Supreme Court receives about 10,000 petitions from appellants each year and takes only 75 or 80 cases. But this year one of the cases it hears will be on a scope of practice issue. In a March 3 order, the court granted petition for writ of certiorari to the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners, which has been fighting an anti-competitive practices action by the Federal Trade Commission. The board is appealing a decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, which upheld an FTC ruling that the board improperly excluded unlicensed teeth-whitening services from the market.

The case arose in response to a series of cease-and-desist letters sent by the board to unlicensed teeth-whitening businesses and their landlords in North Carolina. The letters explained that the unlicensed services were illegal and seem to have been successful in hindering the practice.

In 2010, the FTC issued an administrative complaint against the board, accusing the board—which is composed of 7 dental professionals and one consumer representative—of improperly hindering competitors to its dentist members. A Commission ruling prohibited the board from issuing any further letters, and the board unsuccessfully appealed to the Fourth Circuit. That court ruled that the board would be considered a private actor in the matter, as it was comprised of private practitioners and did not actually have the authority to send the letters.