California laws banning 'one-stop' optician shops withstands challenge

Published: Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6B

A decadelong legal fight that originated in Sacramento to scuttle California's prohibition on "one-stop-shops" offering both eye examinations and prescription lenses has finally hit the wall with the U.S. Supreme Court refusing to accept the issue for review.

Three entities representing "dispensing opticians" – Lenscrafters Inc., Eye Care Centers of America Inc., and the National Association of Optometrists & Opticians – had asked the high court to consider a federal appellate court's rejection of their challenge to the laws.

The plaintiffs went to Sacramento federal court in 2002 over California's statutes and regulations that reserve to optometrists and ophthalmologists the ability to offer both eye exams and glasses while denying it to optical companies, many of them national chains. Optometrists and ophthalmologists are classified as health care providers, as opposed to opticians, who fill prescriptions for eyewear.

The California Optometric Association, which supported the state laws, said they allow eye physicians to make medical decisions without profit pressure from a parent company. State lawyers made the same argument in urging the Supreme Court to leave the laws intact.

Opticians argued that the laws create unlawful discrimination and that the state failed to prove there are no other means to protect public health.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton found in favor of the plaintiffs on those grounds in 2006.

But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed him in 2009, holding that the laws are not discriminatory, and the three-judge panel sent the case back to Karlton to decide whether the laws amount to an undue interference with interstate commerce. He found they do not.

This time around the plaintiffs argued that the laws keep interstate companies from offering one-stop shopping, "which is the dominant form of eyewear retailing."

Once again they were rebuffed by circuit judges, who concluded that "Supreme Court precedent establishes that there is not a significant burden on interstate commerce merely because a nondiscriminatory regulation precludes a preferred, more profitable method of operating in the retail market."

The judges added that any potential shift in sales and profits to in-state operators from retailers owned by out-of-state companies is "incidental."

The Supreme Court turned the case down without comment.

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Read more articles by Denny Walsh

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