Dentists and Noncompetes

The Boston Business Litigation newsletter from Yurko, Salvesen & Remz recently brought to our attention an interesting new lawsuit involving a claim by a dental practice that a dentist violated non-competition and non-solicitation covenants he entered into when he sold his practice.  The noncompete restriction at issue prohibited the dentist from “practicing dentistry” for three years within a 15 mile radius of the plaintiff’s South Weymouth office. So far, there is no decision on the plaintiff’s injunction request, but the case does raise interesting question:  can you stop a dentist from practicing dentistry within a specific geographic area?  Or put another way:  shouldn’t dentists be exempt from noncompetes?

In Massachusetts, there are a number of professions that are exempted from noncompete enforcement.  As Brian Bialas recently explained, lawyers cannot be subject to non-competition restrictions.  And there are a few other professions that enjoy this special status in Massachusetts:  physicians, nurses, broadcasters, and social workers.   Employees in these professions cannot, by virtue of specific legislation altering the common law of noncompetes, be subject to a post-employment noncompete.  So, if your doctor leaves his medical practice and wants to hang a shingle down the street, he cannot be restricted from doing so by a traditional non-competition agreement.

But no statutory exemption exists in Massachusetts for dentists.  Certainly a good argument can be made that the public policy underlying the exclusion for physicians — that a patient’s interest in receiving medical treatment from the doctor of her choice overrides any business interest in restricting unfair competition — should apply equally to dentists.   But for now, dentists don’t enjoy this protection.

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