A lawsuit has been filed against the medical board in the state of California as well as other officials for instituting a program that fines doctors for calling themselves “doctors.”
The lawsuit, by the Pacific Legal Foundation, is on behalf of several individuals.
It explains Sarah Erny holds a Doctorate of Nursing Practice but the state, under a “titling” restriction, has decided that no one other than a licensed physician or surgeon should be allowed to use the generic “Dr.” title.
The legal team explained Erny recently was fined over $20,000 for her website reference.
“And [she] may lose her license for truthfully referring to herself as ‘Dr. Sarah,’” the legal team warned.
It is common for nurse practitioners who have earned their Doctorate of Nursing Practice to refer to themselves as doctor, just like college professors and veterinarians.
But the California Business and Professional Code fines them.
“The state cannot appropriate a commonly used term and reserve it for a narrow range of practitioners,” said Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Donna Matias. “Many professionals commonly use the title ‘Dr.’ — beyond physicians — and should be able to truthfully do so when describing their profession or accomplishments. Government censorship of professional titles is a thinly veiled attempt to protect well-connected industry insiders.”
The case was filed in U.S. District Court in California on behalf of Jacqueline Palmer, Heather Lewis and Rodolfo Jaravata-Hanson. Defendants are Rob Bonta, the attorney general there, Kristian Lawson, of the state’s medical board, and Loretta Melby, of the California board of nursing.
Erny is not a party to the case, and no longer lives in the state.
The problem cited by the lawsuit is that a state law “criminalizes the truthful use of the title ‘Dr.’ by any healthcare professional who is not a licensed physician or surgeon. That means veterinarians, dentists, pharmacists, physical therapists, and nurse practitioners are subject to severe penalties if they truthfully refer to themselves as ‘doctor.’”
That, the complaint charges, violates the First Amendment.
“California has appropriated a common title used by a variety of educated professionals and reserved it for legal use by only a select group of professions,” the complaint charges.
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It continues, “The First Amendment to the United States Constitution, as applied to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, protects the truthful, non-misleading speech that Plaintiffs have engaged in and would continue to engage in absent threat of enforcement by Defendants. On its face and as enforced by Defendants, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 2054 prohibits Plaintiffs from engaging in lawful communication to accurately describe their qualifications and accomplishments by using the title ‘Dr.’ or the term ‘doctor.’
“The application of section 2054 to Plaintiffs and other professionals who truthfully use the title ‘Dr.’ or the word ‘doctor’ burdens their rights to free speech. 34. Section 2054 is both a content-based and a speaker-based restriction on Plaintiffs’ freedom of speech because it identifies certain words (‘Dr.’ and ‘doctor’) and restricts who is allowed to use them.”
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