Protecting an individual's right to a private relationship
The Minnesota Department of Health reversed course and decided to rescind its January 14 order for discipline against massage therapist LaRae Lundeen Fjellman. Mrs. Fjellman was disciplined for entering into a personal relationship and marrying a former client within two years of ending their professional relationship. The decision to rescind discipline against Mrs. Fjellman was based on a last-minute conclusion that the facts of the case "clearly do not constitute the egregious mischief or exploitation that the legislature sought to protect the public from when it enacted Chapter 146A," and that Mrs. Fjellman does not pose "any future threat to the public".
The ACLU of Minnesota agreed to represent Mrs. Fjellman in her appeal from the order for discipline because the rule infringes on the constitutional right to intimate association and the right to marry. The rule also violates the right to equal protection because it holds alternative healthcare providers to a more rigorous standard than other healthcare providers. Although the discipline was rescinded in this case, the ACLU of Minnesota is evaluating its options for challenging the constitutionality of the law in order to obtain some measure of justice for LaRae.
LaRae has been a massage therapist for 18 years. In October 2000, Kirk Fjellman became her client and remained one until April 2002. In August 2002, they began dating and fell in love. They got engaged in March 2003 and were married in September 2003. The complaint against Mrs. Fjellman set off a three-year ordeal in which Department of Health officials subjected her to an intrusive interrogation and required her to undergo a psychological examination with a state appointed psychologist, at her own expense.
The Minnesota law at issue here goes too far by imposing a two-year ban on consensual relationships between alternative health care practitioners and their former clients. ACLU- MN Legal Director Teresa Nelson said, "The law unnecessarily extends two years after the client relationship has ended. Our hope is to prevent this from happening again."