The U.S. Supreme Court left intact California rules that bar eyeglass companies from offering on- site vision exams, rejecting contentions that the system favors local eye doctors over consumers and multistate optical businesses.
The justices today turned away an appeal by companies including LensCrafters Inc., whose parent Luxottica Group SpA is the world’s biggest maker of eyeglasses. LensCrafters argued that the rules unconstitutionally discriminate against interstate commerce.
The appeal had support from Walgreen Co. (WAG:US), which said a lower court ruling upholding the California rules would let states bar drugstores from offering health-care services in competition with doctors. States might also restrict Internet commerce to protect local businesses, Walgreen said.
The lower court decision “portends serious trouble for all out-of-state sellers, not merely the sellers of eyewear involved in this case,” the Deerfield, Illinois-based drugstore chain argued in court papers.
The ruling came from the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers nine western states.
The Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has shown little interest in using the Constitution’s commerce clause to overturn state laws as too protectionist.
California urged the Supreme Court not to get involved, saying the restrictions are part of a broader effort to ensure eye exams aren’t influenced by commercial motivations.
Conflict of Interest
“Co-location can result in conflicts of interest for an optometrist,” the state argued. An optometrist might face pressure “to act in a manner that promotes the optical store’s commercial interests, such as sale of the store’s good or limiting the time spent with a patient to maximize prescription volume.”
LensCrafters said the rules put opticians at a competitive disadvantage because California optometrists who don’t work for an eyeglass company are allowed to sell eyewear as part of their services, offering their patients the option of one-stop shopping.
LensCrafters, whose parent company is based in Milan, accused California of trying to “drive national eyewear retailers from the state.”
Eye Care Centers of America Inc. and the National Association of Optometrists and Opticians joined LensCrafters in pressing the Supreme Court appeal.
The case is National Association of Optometrists and Opticians v. Harris, 12-461.
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