American Academy of Emergency Medicine

Federal Court Rules in Favor of Strict Definition for Board Certification

Source: California Medical Association, April 27, 2000

The Federal Court in Sacramento, CA, has once again upheld a law limiting to those physicians possessing an American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) or board certification deemed "equivalent" by the ABMS the right to advertise that they are "board certified." The court ruled against the American Academy of Pain Management (AAPM), which sued the Medical Board of California in 1998 challenging a 1990 law that limited such advertising. The 1990 law was passed in response to complaints that physicians were advertising themselves as "board certified" when they had only attended very brief courses offered by non-ABMS boards.

Federal Judge Lawrence Karelton in 1998 rejected AAPM's request to have the law declared unconstitutional. AAPM then appealed it to the 9th Circuit where it was again rebuffed when the court returned the case for trial. At that point, the California Medical Association (CMA) filed an amicus curiae brief supporting the law in both the federal and the appeals courts.

In this latest ruling, the court disposed of the case on a motion for summary judgment, upholding the validity of the statute limiting the right to claim board certification.

The presiding judge's decision reflected CMA's amicus argument that the state's process of determining whether a board is equivalent to an ABMS board is objective and nondiscriminatory, and that the use of the term "board certified" by a physician whose board was not so certified was inherently misleading.