LITTLE ROCK — A federal judge erred in dismissing a Fort Smith orthodontists’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Arkansas Dental Practice Act, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

LITTLE ROCK — A federal judge erred in dismissing a Fort Smith orthodontists’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Arkansas Dental Practice Act, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.


The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis said Dr. Ben Burris can proceed with his lawsuit, which he originally filed in May 2014 with another orthodontist who is now deceased.


Burris filed the suit against the state Board of Dental Examiners after receiving a letter from the board in June 2013 advising him that low-cost teeth-cleaning services he was providing at several locations in the state violated the Dental Practices Act, which states that a dentist with a specialty license "must limit his or her practice to the specialty in which he or she is licensed except in an emergency situation."


Burris eventually discontinued the low-cost teeth-cleaning services, but he alleged in his suit that the law violated his rights under the U.S. Constitution.


U.S. District Judge Brian Miller dismissed the suit without prejudice in November 2014, citing the Pullman doctrine, also known as the abstention doctrine.


Established by the 1941 U.S. Supreme Court decision Railroad Commission of Texas v. Pullman Co., the Pullman doctrine requires a federal court to refrain from exercising jurisdiction when a case involves a potentially controlling issue of state law that is unclear and that could be resolved by state courts, avoiding or altering the need for a decision by the federal court.


Burris argued on appeal that the Dental Practices Act is clear. The state attorney general’s office, which represented the Dental Board in the case, agreed, saying the law clearly prohibits Burris from offering services outside of his specialty.


A three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit concurred, saying in its decision Friday reversing Miller’s ruling, "We agree with the parties that the statute is clear."


The attorney general’s office had argued that the 8th Circuit should uphold Miller’s ruling on other grounds, but the appellate court said it would not consider those grounds because Miller did not address them in his ruling.


"There was never any question that this law applies to Dr. Burris," Matt Miller, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice, which is representing Burris, said in a statement Friday. "That is why the Dental Board threatened to revoke his license for daring to make teeth cleanings available to people who might not otherwise be able to afford them. We are very pleased that Dr. Burris’ constitutional claims will now be heard."


The attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.