The law, originally passed on April 17, 1967, states that it is unlawful for any licensed optometrist to practice or offer to practice optometry in, or in conjunction with any retail store or other commercial establishment where merchandise is displayed or offered for sale.
One exception: Tennessee optometrists may lease office space in a retail store if the office has a separate entrance from the store and if the optometrist can practice independently. In other words, the office lease may not involve any contractual agreements as to the number of hours the optometrist must work, the fees they must charge, etc.
Legislators enacted the law to prevent non-health care entities from influencing the decision-making of optometrists. The law, therefore, protects the doctor-patient relationship and patients welfare, the court ruled.1
This case began in 1998, when the Tennessee Board of Optometry fined an optometrist for leasing an office that did not have a separate entrance within a Tennessee Lens-Crafters store. LensCrafters then sued the board and the state, arguing that the law is discriminatory because private optometrists may have dispensaries in their offices, yet retail stores may not have optometrists within their retail space.
The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee stated that LensCrafters was comparing dissimilar entities (i.e., a retail store and private optometry practices), so discrimination could not occur. Additionally, the statute did not cause any economic injury to LensCrafters. The court further stated that, in the interest of public welfare, states have the right to dictate who may practice optometry and under what conditions.
LensCrafters appealed this decision and claimed discrimination because Tennessee optometrists have a competitive advantage over their out-of-state competitors (i.e., LensCrafters) in the retail eyewear market. However, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit upheld the original decision, ruling that LensCrafters again attempted to compare dissimilar entities (i.e., in-state optometrists, who are health-care providers, with out-of-state optical companies that are not health-care providers).
LensCrafters has since filed a petition requesting that the entire panel of 6th Circuit judges hear the case again. (The entire panel of judges did not hear the original 6th Circuit appeal.) If the court denies LensCrafters petition or if it rehears the case and upholds its decision, LensCrafters can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Tennessee Board of Optometry declined to comment because this case is ongoing.
1. In the Supreme Court of Tennessee at Nashville: May 24, 2000 Session. Available at www.tsc.state.tn.us/opinions/tsc/pdf/004/lenscrafters.pdf. Accessed May 27, 2005.