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California may license and regulate mental health professionals - National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis v. California Board of Psychology, 228 F.3d 1043, (9th Cir. 2000)

This case arises from the differing state standards for licensing and regulating psychology and psychoanalysis.  California requires more training and different formal certifications than some other states, thus excluding plaintiffs from practice there.  Plaintiff psychoanalysts Lionel Corbett, Cedrus Monte, and Allan Sowers, and the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis ("NAAP") (collectively "plaintiffs") sued defendants, members of the California Board of Psychology ("Board"), and the Attorney General of California, for declaratory and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. ' 1983. Plaintiffs allege that California's mental health licensing laws, which regulate the practice of psychology and other professions, restrict their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Specifically, they assert that the licensing scheme prohibits them from practicing psychoanalysis in California. The district court held that plaintiffs failed to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), and dismissed their complaint and the action.

The regulation of the healing professions is done through the police powers, which are reserved to the states.  As long as these are not exercised in ways that violate the constitution or are direct conflict with federal law, the states have plenary power in these areas.  Plaintiffs made 1st amendment (free speech) and 14th amendment equal protection claims to try to get federal jurisdiction.  Historically, as long as licensing laws are applied neutrally and are rationally related to the protection of the public health and safety, they will withstand constitutional scrutiny.  In this case, the state was able to establish a clear public health and safety rationale:

"The profession of psychology has been regulated in California since 1958, when the Legislature enacted the Psychology Certification Act, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code ' ' 2900-2980 (1958), which "served only to protect the title`psychologist, ' " but did not define the practice of psychology. Executive Summary, California Board of Psychology, Sunset Review Report , at 1 (October 1, 1997) ("Sunset Report"). In 1967, the Legislature "recognized the actual and potential consumer harm that can result from the unlicensed, unqualified or incompetent practice of psychology" and enacted the Psychology Licensing Law, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code ' ' 29002996. 6 (1968). Sunset Report at 1. That law includes a legislative finding that the 'practice of psychology in California affects the public health, safety, and welfare and is to be subject to regulation and control in the public interest to protect the public from the unauthorized and unqualified practice of psychology.'"

The appeals court affirmed the district courts dismissal of the plaintiffs' claims, finding no violation of the 1st or 14th amendments, and holding that the standards for licensing professionals is best left to the state legislature.  The case has a useful review of the precedent, and raises interesting issues of conflicts in state standards for licensing as the telemedicine and the Internet break down the traditional geographic basis for professional licensing.

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