Per the Institute for Justice, being a disabled and retired senior citizen, the internet allowed Hines to remain productive in his golden years. Yet he’s been fined and shut down for giving advice on the internet, often for free, to people around the planet who have no other access toveterinary care for their animals.
The organization describes Hines and his activities:
Dr. Ron Hines—a retired and physically disabled Texas-licensed veterinarian—has used the Internet since 2002 to help pet owners from across the country and around the world, often for free and sometimes for a $58 flat fee. Ron helps people who have conflicting diagnoses from their local vets, who live in remote parts of the world without access to trustworthy veterinarians, and who cannot afford traditional veterinary care. No one has ever complained about Ron’s advice.
Then Ron discovered that he had been on a decade-long crime spree. In Texas, it is a crime for a veterinarian to give advice over the Internet without having first physically examined the animal. On March 25, 2013, the Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners shut Ron down, suspended his license, fined him, and made him retake portions of the veterinary licensing exam. Texas did this without even an allegation that Ron harmed any animal.
Now Ron is fighting back. Together with the Institute for Justice, Ron has filed a free-speech lawsuit in federal court to defend his First Amendment right to communicate with people about their pets using the Internet. But this case is bigger than Ron Hines. It is about protecting Internet freedom and free speech for Americans everywhere.
While IJ says this lawsuit involves free speech and internet freedom, it also, the organization says, centers on one of the most important unresolved issues in First Amendment law: When does occupational licensing trump the First Amendment?
The outcome will have widespread implications for medicine, law, psychology, investment advice and many other occupations that often involve nothing but speech in the form of advice. The facts make it an ideal lawsuit for eventual consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court.