Do adults have the right to talk to other adults about what to buy at the grocery store? That’s the question raised by a federal lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice on behalf of Florida-based health coach Heather Kokesch Del Castillo.
In 2014, Heather left an unfulfilling career to found Constitution Nutrition, a business that specializes in providing one-on-one health coaching for paying clients. As a privately certified health coach, Heather operated successfully and without complaint—first in California and then in Florida—for nearly four years. But in May 2017, Heather was forced to shut down completely, after a licensed dietitian filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Health alleging that Heather was engaging in the unlicensed practice of nutrition/dietetics.
Although Heather has never held herself out as a licensed nutritionist or dietitian, the Florida Department of Health slapped her with an order to cease and desist providing nutritional advice and demanded that she pay over $750 in fines and costs. She would have to spend years of her life and thousands of dollars getting a degree and in training to become a licensed dietitian. Without any realistic options, Heather did as the state ordered and shut down. And she has been turning away willing clients ever since.
Unfortunately, Heather’s situation is not unique. Occupational licensing boards are increasingly operating as special-interest censors, while licensed practitioners—eager to keep out would-be competitors—often scour advertising spaces in search of people to file complaints against. And this problem is particularly acute for military families like Heather’s, for whom frequent moves often lead to conflict with state licensing boards.
But this sort of censorship cannot be squared with the First Amendment. Advice about what people should eat to stay healthy is as old as language and the government has no power to give any group a monopoly on advice about such a common, everyday topic.
That’s why Heather is fighting back. On October 3, 2017, Heather joined with the Institute for Justice to file a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida to strike down Florida’s unconstitutional restrictions on who can give safe dietary advice that customers want to buy. Together, Heather and IJ will vindicate her right—and the rights of all Floridians—to offer nutrition advice and health coaching without the fear of being prosecuted or shut down by the government.