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Court News Ohio

Eighth District: Efforts to Block Chiropractor Calls to Crash Victims Unconstitutional

Image of a telephone headset next to a telephone.

Appeals court finds laws blocking chiropractors from calling victims immediately after car accidents are unconstitutional.

Image of a telephone headset next to a telephone.

Appeals court finds laws blocking chiropractors from calling victims immediately after car accidents are unconstitutional.

State laws that make it illegal for chiropractors to call victims immediately after car accidents and crimes are unconstitutional, the Eighth District Court of Appeals recently ruled.

The Eighth District struck down two laws enacted by the General Assembly in 2019 to curb telephone and text solicitations by chiropractors and other healthcare professionals using telephone numbers gleaned from police reports. A group of northeast Ohio chiropractors sought to block the law from taking effect by filing a lawsuit in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court in September 2019.

The Eighth District’s May 23, 2024, decision affirmed prior common pleas court rulings that prevented the laws from being enforced. The appeals court found lawmakers violated the Ohio Constitution’s “one-subject” rule when the provisions were inserted into the state’s 2020-2021 biennial budget bill. Because the appeals court found the one-subject violation, it declined to rule on other claims by the medical providers that the laws violated their free speech and equal protection rights.

Writing for the Eighth District, Judge Frank D. Celebrezze III noted that prior standalone bills restricting chiropractor solicitations had stalled in the legislature. Lawmakers inserted the provisions into the budget bill during the late stages of the legislative process when it was in a House-Senate conference committee.

While Ohio courts have found it generally acceptable to include numerous unrelated subjects in budget bills, Judge Celebrezze wrote that adding legislation that has been unsuccessful on its own merits to other legislation is the “very evil the one-subject rule was designed to prevent.”

Lawmakers Sought to Mute Crash Victim Calls
During the budget deliberations, legislators amended the Ohio Public Records Act by adding R.C. 149.33(A)(1)(mm), which excluded from public records the telephone number on police reports of a motor vehicle accident or crime victim. The budget bill also added a new section to state law, R.C. 1349.05, which indicated that chiropractors and other health care practitioners could not contact an accident or crime victim until 30 days after the incident. After 30 days, the only solicitation for professional services could be by mail. The law also allowed the Ohio attorney general to enforce the law and issue fines from $5,000 to $25,000 to violators.

Allied Health & Chiropractic of Cleveland and other providers argued that chiropractors rely on prompt and direct contact and communication with prospective clients and reach them mostly using telephone numbers listed on police reports. The chiropractors asked the common pleas court for a preliminary injunction, and after a July 2020 hearing, the trial court prevented R.C. 1349.05 from being enforced.

Measures Massaged as Lawsuit Continued
Months after the trial court blocked the law, the General Assembly amended R.C. 1349.05, which reduced the time to contact a victim from 30 days to 24 hours after a police report is filed. However, the solicitation was restricted to one phone call, email, text message, or letter. The law also removed the power of the attorney general to fine violators.

The restriction of access to telephone numbers on police reports was amended in March 2021. The law was revised to allow insurance companies and insurance agents investigating insurance claims from motor vehicle accidents to access victim telephone numbers. The law was revised again in September 2021, making phone numbers public records 30 days after the police report was filed.

The state asked the common pleas court to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing the revisions to the law resolved the concerns that the initial law was unconstitutional. The chiropractors argued that since the original law was illegally passed when the legislature violated the one-subject rule of the state constitution, all amendments to the law were also invalid.

In June 2022, the common pleas court sided with the chiropractors and found the two laws were unenforceable. The state appealed to the Eighth District.

Appeals Court Analyzed Impact of Amendments
The Eighth District considered the state’s argument that since the laws were amended, the challenge to the original laws should be dismissed. The court pointed to Supreme Court of Ohio rulings that distinguished between amending a law to cure an issue and repealing a law and starting over. The Eighth District ruled that when lawmakers amend rather than repeal a law, challenges to the passage of the original law can continue. The court concluded that the chiropractors’ claim that the original law violated the one-subject rule could continue even though the laws were amended.

The Eighth District then turned to the one-subject rule, found in Article II, Section 15(D) of the Ohio Constitution. The constitution states that no bill shall contain more than one subject, which must be clearly expressed in the bill’s title.

Judge Celebrezze explained that the “judiciary has limited enforcement of the one-subject rule” and the rule is particularly difficult to apply to appropriations bills. Budget bills encompass many items, all bound by the thread of expending public money, the opinion noted. The Eighth District pointed to a Supreme Court ruling on the state’s 2013-2014 budget bill. The Supreme Court stated the primary subject of an appropriations or budget bill is “balancing state expenditures against state revenues to ensure continued operation of state programs.”

The chiropractors argued that nothing in the solicitation laws was related to state expenditures. They argued the language was added to the budget after a similar bill died in the Ohio Senate.

“This, then, creates the appearance that inserting the contested provisions into the Bill, a budget bill, skirted the formal testimonial process that prevented prior, similar provisions from passage,” the opinion stated.

The Eighth District stated that when there is a strong suggestion that language is added to a budget bill to garner support for otherwise unsuccessful bills, the one-subject rule invalidates that unpopular provision. Because the original provisions violated the one-subject rule, the amended laws are also void, the appeals court concluded.

Allied Health & Chiropractic, LLC v. State, 2024-Ohio-1976

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