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Sutker v. Illinois State Dental Society

decided: December 23, 1986.

ELI SUTKER, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS
v.
ILLINOIS STATE DENTAL SOCIETY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, No. 78 C 3936, John F. Grady, Judge.

Author: Ripple

Before CUDAHY, FLAUM and RIPPLE, Circuit Judges.

RIPPLE, Circuit Judge. This appeal presents an equal protection challenge*fn1 to that portion of the Illinois Dental Practice Act (Act), Ill. Ann. Stat. ch. 111, PP2201 et seq. (Smith-Hurd 1978 & Supp. 1985),*fn2 that permits only dentists to take impressions and fit dentures for patients. The district court held that this requirement did not violate the equal protection clause. We affirm.

I

Statement of the Case

The appellants are denturists. They make and repair dentures. However, under the Act, only licensed dentists can fit dentures to the patient's mouth. therefore, while the denturists may manufacture appliances to fill orders placed by licensed dentists, they may not deal directly with patients. It is not disputed that the training and education of denturists is different from that required for dentists. Nevertheless, the denturists submit that they are qualified to undertake the task of fitting dentures.

In 1978, appellants brought suit in the district court challenging the constitutionality of the Act on several different grounds. On April 6, 1979, the district court dismissed the complaint on the ground that it did not raise a substantial federal question. R.43. Appellants appealed the dismissal of their equal protection and due process claims. On December 3, 1980, this court, by unpublished order, reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing. Schiller v. Illinois State Dental Soc'y, 645 F.2d 73 (7th Cir. 1980) (unpublished order); Appellants' App. at 17. This court decided that at least "some evidentiary inquiry" was required to decide whether the challenged sections of the statute were rationally related to a legitimate governmental purpose. See Appellants' App. at 19-20.

On remand, the appellants filed an amended complaint that set forth four counts, including the due process and equal protection questions addressed by this court on the first appeal. On February 15, 1983, the district judge dismissed all claims except the equal protection and due process claims. On June 10, 1985, the court undertook the evidentiary hearing mandated by this court. On July 29, 1985, judgment was entered for the appellees. This appeal followed.

II

Opinion of the District Court

The district court rendered an oral opinion in this case. The district judge stated that "the issue is whether or not there is a rational basis for this legislation." Tr. at 1840. In his view, the denturist's own evidence "establishes that the law is rational." Id. at 1842. He noted that several experts had testified that, at its best, the process of fitting dentures should encompass an oral examination and the interpretation of x-rays. Id. He found that the denturists involved in this litigation "whatever their experience, are not trained to take x-rays, to interpret x-rays and to do mouth examinations as dentists would do." Id. at 1843. he also noted that there was evidence in the record, submitted by the defendants, which demonstrated that many oral abnormalities associated with fitting dentures can easily go undetected. While denturists may be able to provide the appliance at a lower cost, "[t]here is no obligation on the part of the Illinois Legislature to adopt a system that provides dentures at the lowest possible cost." Id. at 1850. "[T]he State may consider quality as well as cost in deciding what system it will adopt." Id. at 1851. Finally, the district court noted:

It seems to me that the case before the Court presents a classic example of a subject which is proper for legislation rather than judicial decision. The plaintiffs have tried repeatedly and without success to induce the Legislature to adopt their point of view, and it is natural that they would turn to the Court as a substitute forum, but that is not the role of the Court, to serve as a substitute forum for disappointed lobbyists.

Id.

II ...


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