Massage therapists warn state: Hands off our rights!

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 15, 2007 - 7:12 PM

A group of health-care providers are suing state officials over a law prohibiting relationships with former clients.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota filed a lawsuit Thursday against current and former Minnesota Commissioners of Health over rules that prohibit a massage therapist from having a sexual relationship with a former client for two years.

The suit, filed on behalf of massage therapist LaRae Lundeen Fjellman of Lindstrom, Minn., and Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP), is in response to actions the state took beginning in 2003 against Fjellman, who married a former client within the two-year period.

The state initially tried to prohibit her from practicing again in Minnesota, but dropped the case after she got support from the MCLU. Some of her attorney's fees were also refunded.

But the law, which also applies to an array of alternative health-care providers from yoga instructors to acupressurists, or even someone selling 10-minute back rubs at a mall, remains on the books.

Concerned that other Minnesota therapists may be similarly targeted, ABMP joined the suit, aimed at eliminating the rule because it "violates the rights of privacy and equal protection guaranteed by the Minnesota and United States Constitutions."

ABMP has 61,000 members across the country, including 1,800 in Minnesota.

Commissioner of Health Sanne Magnan and former commissioner Diane Mandernach are named individually, and in their official capacities overseeing the department.

The plaintiffs also want to eliminate another statute that prohibits social contact and friendship between a massage professional and a client. The statute is so vague it might even prohibit a massage professional from accepting tips from or exchanging gifts with a client, the suit contends.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to rule that the law is unconstitutional and award damages to Fjellman.

The Minnesota Department of Health pursued Fjellman for two years before dropping the case. State investigators interrogated Fjellman, made her take a personality test and, even though state psychologists agreed she was "normal" and didn't pose a threat, moved to take away her ability to practice and imposed a fine.

Then in February the state dropped its case, deciding that the facts "clearly do not constitute the egregious mischief or exploitation that the Legislature sought to protect the public from."

Minnesota's law is one of the strictest in the country.

Jon Tevlin • 612-673-1702

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