Federal Court Sides with TVMA/AVMA in Case

On August 15, U.S. District Judge Fernando Rodriguez Jr. issued a ruling in Hines v. Pardue, a case that has been closely watched by veterinarians in Texas and nationally for several years due to its potentially sweeping impact on telemedicine and the physical examination Texas and many other states require in establishing a veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR). Judge Rodriguez’s ruling was a definitive win for the physical examination requirement, for veterinary medicine and for patients.

In 2013, the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (TBVME) disciplined Dr. Hines for providing veterinary advice to pet owners via telemedicine without first performing a physical exam as is required by Texas law. For more than a decade, TBVME and Dr. Hines have been involved in litigation in which he alleges that the statutory physical examination requirement violates his First Amendment right to free speech under the U.S. Constitution. Judge Rodriguez soundly rejected that argument in his opinion, finding that Texas’ VCPR statute is a permissible, content-neutral regulation of Dr. Hines’ speech. 

Notably, the court found that the state has “substantial” interests in “public and animal health and safety, public confidence in licensure, maintaining minimum standards of care, and preventing the spread of zoonotic diseases” and that the physical examination requirement is material to those interests. This is important because opponents often argue that a physical exam does nothing to further these goals. Judge Rodriguez disagreed. Noting expert testimony that the advice given by Dr. Hines without conducting a physical exam likely harmed patients, the judge ruled that “[the physical examination requirement] ensures that veterinarians possess information that proves important in many cases involving veterinary care. The data that veterinarians obtain through the physical examination of an animal typically cannot be secured by any other means.”

TVMA and AVMA filed an amicus brief in support of the physical examination requirement, and this is a big win for veterinary medicine and animal/public health. However, due to the well-funded interests behind this type of lawsuit, the decision is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. TVMA and AVMA will continue defending the physical examination requirement in higher courts, and the issue could come to the forefront of any future legislative session in Texas. 

Click here to contribute to the Veterinary Political Action Committee (VPAC) to support TVMA’s defense of the VCPR and other issues impacting the profession. Also, TVMA’s Third Annual “Red, Blue and You” fundraising event once again will be taking place at the Southwest Veterinary Symposium (SWVS) on Saturday, September 23. To buy your tickets or to become a Capitol Club, Gold or Silver-level VPAC supporter, click here

If you have any questions, please contact TVMA Director of Government Relations/General Counsel Trent Hightower at 512-452-4224 or thightower@tvma.org.