Judge Sides with Equine Massage Therapist

June 2009

 

Chiropractic Board Stalls
On May 5, massage therapist Mercedes Clemens reached another milestone in her lawsuit to reclaim her right to massage horses when a judge essentially told the Maryland State Board of Chiropractic Examiners to "back off." Last summer, The Equiery reported that Clemens was suing the Maryland State Boards of Chiropractic Examiners and Veterinary Medical Examiners for violation of her constitutional rights after the Chiropractic Board issued her several "cease and desist" orders, using documentation from the Vet Board as backup for their position.

"The Maryland Constitution protects my right to earn an honest living free from unreasonable regulations," explained Clemens at the time of the filing.

Eventually, because the Vet Board had not been directly responsible for sending Clemens a "cease and desist" order, and because the board claimed to have no problem with equine massage (as long as the practitioner did not claim that any health benefits would be derived), the case against the Vet Board was dismissed.

Shouldn't that be sufficient to end the situation? No, because the "cease and desist" order from the Chiropractic Board clearly stated that if Clemens continued to practice on animals, it would rescind her license to practice on humans.

The Washington Post's John Kelly described the conundrum and the scene in the courtroom in his May 6 column:

How can an organization that oversees the massaging of humans crack heads when it comes to the massaging non-humans? The answer from Assistant Attorney General Grant D. Gerber seemed to be that by running afoul of the veterinary board, Mercedes had jeopardized her human license. But not long after Mercedes filed her case, the veterinary board withdrew its opposition to her practice and was dismissed from the suit. The chiropractors were left to sort of go it on their own. They remained bent out of shape. "Let me get back to the question I initially asked," said the judge. "Your board does not control the massage of animals. What authority does it have to issue a cease and desist order telling her not to massage horses?"


The assistant attorney general (AAG) had the unenviable task of having to defend a position that got sillier and sillier every time the judge described it. The vet board didn't have a problem with her massaging horses? Uh, no. And the chiropractors have no jurisdiction over animal massage? Um, that's right.

The problem, as Mercedes and her lawyers saw it, was that, according to the chiropractors, anybody in Maryland could massage horses except for licensed massage therapists.


Rather than ruling on either Clemens' lawsuit or the Chiropractic Board's motion to dismiss, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge David A. Boynton suspended the hearing until June 2 in order to give the Board an opportunity to reconsider its policy.

On May 14, the Board met for its monthly, open meeting. In attendance were two reporters, former senator Paula Hollinger and Clemens' attorney, Paul Sherman from the Institute for Justice. When the Board reached this item on its agenda, it closed the meeting, throwing the reporters, as well as the senator and the lawyer, out of the room, so that they could "discuss the issue and make a final decision."

After 30 minutes, the lawyer, senator and reporters were allowed back into the room, only to be told that the Board had received some sort of mysterious "new information" which needed further discussion and that they would present a written statement "at a future time."

What next? Is it back to the court room on June 2? If so, The Equiery will be there.

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