Following AAO advocacy efforts, on Monday, December 5, 2022, the Office of Attorney General for the District of Columbia announced that it has filed suit on behalf of the District against SmileDirectClub, Inc., bringing the consumer protection enforcement action against the mail-order orthodontics company due to its allegedly “deceptive and unfair” business practices involving non-disclosure agreements (“NDAs”) it allegedly has patients sign to receive a refund.
Filed by Attorney General Karl Racine, the District’s Complaint (copy available on the Office’s website here) claims that SmileDirectClub (SDC) has violated provisions of the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA). The CPPA “prohibits a broad range of deceptive and unfair business practices, including misleading consumers, making misrepresentations, and failing to disclose important information about products or services.” The District’s Complaint alleges that the following conduct allegedly engaged in by SDC is prohibited by the CPPA:
- Having consumers sign NDAs to receive refunds
- Suppressing negative reviews and information about harm allegedly caused by SDC aligners
- Distorting online reviews
- Stopping consumers who claim they have been harmed by SDC from reporting problems to government regulators and law enforcement
The Office of the Attorney General stated that, by filing this suit, it is “seeking a court order invalidating these unlawful NDAs and barring SmileDirectClub from engaging in unfair and deceptive business practices in the future . . . [and] seeking restitution for consumers and civil penalties, fees, and costs.”
Patient protection, including protection from potentially deceptive contract practices, has long been a focus of the advocacy efforts of the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO). The AAO has raised concerns with many Attorneys General, including AG Racine, regarding certain business practices sometimes found in mail-order orthodontic treatment models. Notably, the AAO has met with AG Racine on multiple occasions since 2019 to discuss the AAO’s concerns over the practice of having patients sign an NDA that could prevent them from filing a dental board complaint or other complaints with government agencies that possess oversight and enforcement jurisdiction over dentistry.
“The AAO commends Attorney General Racine and his Office for recognizing potentially deceptive and unfair business practices, and for taking action to ensure that such practices do not harm unsuspecting orthodontic patients,” stated Dr. Norman Nagel, AAO president. “The AAO is also proud of, and extends its sincerest gratitude toward, all those orthodontist Members who have participated in advocacy efforts seeking to protect patients, as their work on this important issue continues to yield results.”
The AAO’s Legal and Advocacy team will continue to monitor this lawsuit, and other cases arising from mail-order orthodontics treatment models, and will update AAO membership of major developments.
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