Hines v. Alldredge, No. 14-40403 (5th Cir. 2015)Annotate this Case
Ronald Hines was a Texas-licensed veterinarian who practiced since the mid-1960s. He worked mainly in traditional veterinary practices until he retired in 2002. After his retirement, he founded a website and began to post articles about pet health and care. These general writings soon turned to more targeted guidance and, as he acknowledged in his complaint, he began “to provide veterinary advice to specific pet owners about their pets.” This advice was given via email and telephone calls, and Hines “never physically examine[d] the animals that are the subject of his advice,” though he did review veterinary records provided by the animal owners. Texas required veterinarians to conduct a physical examination of an animal or its premises before they can practice veterinary medicine with respect to that animal. In 2012, the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners informed Hines that by providing veterinary advice without a physical examination, he had violated Texas law. Hines eventually agreed to: abide by the relevant state laws, including the physical examination requirement, one year of probation; a stayed suspension of his license; a $500 fine; and to retake the jurisprudence portion of the veterinary licensing exam. Hines thereafter filed suit in federal court, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. He argued that the physical examination requirement violates his First Amendment right to free speech as well as his rights under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Board moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The district court granted the Board’s motion in part and denied it in part. With respect to the equal protection claim, the court concluded that because the law did not discriminate on the basis of any suspect classification, the count was evaluated pursuant to rational basis review, and held that the physical examination requirement passed that deferential standard. The court dismissed Hines’s substantive due process claim for similar reasons. The district court denied the motion to dismiss the First Amendment claims. It recognized that states have broad power to regulate professionals, but determined that because the physical examination requirement “regulate[s] professional speech itself,” it is subject to the First Amendment. Relying on federal Supreme Court precedent, the district court held that Hines had stated a plausible claim that the Board had infringed his First Amendment rights. The Board moved to certify for interlocutory review the district court’s order. The issue this case presented for the Fifth Circuit's review thus centered on whether Hines' First or Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated. The Court concluded it offends neither, reversing the district court’s denial of the defendants’ motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s First Amendment counts and affirming the district court’s granting of the defendants’ motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s Fourteenth Amendment counts.