Stores that offer "one-stop shopping" for eye examinations and prescription lenses have seemingly lost their 10-year-old legal struggle to invalidate California statutes and regulations outlawing those stores.
A federal appellate court has ruled that the state acted well within its rights under U.S. Supreme Court case law and the U.S. Constitution's commerce clause when it eliminated such businesses.
The 23-page opinion Wednesday by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirms a decision in April 2010 by U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton of Sacramento.
The three entities representing "dispensing opticians" that challenged the ban Lenscrafters Inc., Eye Care Centers of America Inc. and the National Association of Optometrists & Opticians could seek review by an enlarged circuit panel or at the Supreme Court. Review at either court is a remote possibility.
The restrictions on "one-stop shopping" apply to all opticians and optical stores selling eyewear, regardless of whether the companies are California-based or incorporated in another state.
The laws and regulations also prohibit advertising that glasses and examinations are available at the same location, and they bar optical companies from furnishing, employing or maintaining optometrists and ophthalmologists on their premises.
Optometrists and ophthalmologists are considered health care providers, as opposed to opticians, who fill prescriptions and sell eyewear.
The eye care providers argued that the laws discriminate against interstate commerce and that the state failed to prove there are no other means to protect public health. Karlton found in favor of the plaintiffs on those grounds in 2006.
The 9th Circuit reversed him in 2009, holding the laws are not discriminatory, and the appellate judges sent the case back to Karlton to decide whether the laws create an undue interference with interstate commerce. He found they do not.
This time around, the plaintiffs argued the law keeps interstate companies such as Lenscrafters and Eye Care Centers from offering one-stop shopping, "which is the dominant form of eyewear retailing."
They also argued interstate firms would suffer a significant financial loss.
"We conclude," said the circuit panel, "that Supreme Court precedent establishes that there is not a significant burden on interstate commerce merely because a non-discriminatory regulation precludes a preferred, more profitable method of operating in the retail market."
Eye care is not something that requires uniform regulation "and does not otherwise impair the free flow of materials and products across state borders," the panel stated.
It added that any potential shift in sales and profits to in-state entities from retailers owned by out-of-state companies is "incidental."
The opinion was written by Procter Hug Jr., a senior circuit judge from Reno. Concurring were Circuit Judges Richard A. Paez of Pasadena and Marsha S. Berzon of San Francisco.