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Court invalidates board’s rule exempting some from regulation

A state veterinary board rule that created a presumption that a "designated caretaker" who took over an animal's care was, under certain circumstances, attempting to circumvent the licensing law was invalid, the Court of Appeals of Texas held February 26 (Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners v. Jefferson, 2016 WL 768778).

The case involved an exception to the law that prohibits unlicensed practice of veterinary medicine. Under an “owner exemption, the owner of an animal, an employee of the owner, or a “designed caretaker” is not subject to regulation by the veterinary board, “unless the ownership, employment, or designation is established with intent to violate the Veterinary Licensing Act.”

Ellen Jefferson, a veterinarian and chief executive officer of two non-profit animal rescue organizations, including San Antonio Pets Alive! (SAPA), was the subject of a complaint about a dog that had died while being cared for at a foster home.

In response, Jefferson filed suit, claiming that the board lacked authority over her actions relating to the dog and all other SAPA animals because the organization owns the animals and her medical care fell under the owner exemption to the state’s veterinary laws. Her care of SAPA animals was, thus, outside of the board’s purview.

After investigation, the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners charged that Jefferson had violated the licensing statute and regulations by failing to establish a veterinarian-client-patient relationship before diagnosing and treating the dog and before prescribing and dispensing medication.

Jefferson challenged the validity of the board’s rules. An administrative law judge determined that Jefferson was indeed exempt from regulation when she was treating the SAPA animals, as a “designated caretaker.”

The ALJ also held—and the appeals court agreed—that the animal rescue organization’s structure and ownership were not put in place in order to violate the veterinary practice act or to avoid the board’s regulatory powers but rather to provide animals with care and treatment in order to prevent euthanasia.