A Fort Smith dentist has voluntarily given up his orthodontic license and dropped a federal lawsuit challenging the state Dental Practices Act, which prevents dental specialists in Arkansas from practicing routine dentistry.
Benjamin Burris sued the state Board of Dental Examiners after it threatened to revoke his dental license and his orthodontic license if he didn't stop offering low-cost teeth cleanings at his Jonesboro office. He said the service was part of a "mission to expand access to dental care to low-income individuals."
But the Arkansas Dental Practices Act says a dentist who receives a specialty license "must limit his or her practice to the specialty in which he or she is licensed except in an emergency situation."
Burris, who operates more than 20 dental offices across the state, gave up his orthodontic license Friday. He still has his general dentistry license and plans to continue offering low-cost teeth cleanings to adults and children in each of those offices.
Burris will do all kinds of general dentistry, "braces and everything," said his attorney, Matthew Miller of the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm in Austin, Texas.
Burris sued the Board of Dental Examiners in May 2014, saying its refusal to let him offer the teeth-cleaning services was unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Brian Miller dismissed the lawsuit in November on grounds that Miller raised on his own and that weren't argued by the defendants.
On Dec. 11, a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis reinstated Burris' lawsuit. The panel said Miller needed to base his rulings on the arguments of the board, which defended the law, instead of on his finding that the case was something for the state courts to decide.
In response, the dental board recently renewed its earlier motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and Burris' response was due by Monday.
After Burris gave up his orthodontic license, attorney Matthew Miller and attorney Chris Burks of the Sanford Law Firm in Little Rock filed a short notice of dismissal, which resolves the case.
"He is qualified as an orthodontist, but he's decided this access to care is important, and he's going to focus on that," Matthew Miller said. He added, "Dr. Burris does plan to work for changes in the law. He has been approached by several legislators and has decided to take them up on it."
Matthew Miller noted that Burris was never seeking monetary damages in his lawsuit -- only a declaration that the prohibition on dental specialists practicing general dentistry was unconstitutional.
In its latest filing, the dental board argued that when it admonished Burris for violating the law by providing the low-cost teeth cleanings, he signed a consent order agreeing to stop offering the cleanings, in exchange for the board dropping any disciplinary actions against him. The board said that through the agreement, Burris waived his right to file a claim against the board.
Matthew Miller disagreed with that, saying Burris still has a right to seek prospective relief, but he indicated that Burris has decided to change his tactics.
He noted that there are only seven other states with laws that prohibit dental specialists from practicing general dentistry.
Metro on 01/10/2016