An “optometrist” is a medical professional who performs eye examinations and writes prescriptions for corrective lenses. To perform these functions in California, an optometrist must hold a valid Doctor of Optometry degree and maintain a valid license from the California Board of Optometry. By contrast, a “dispensing optician” or “optician,” is an individual who dispenses prescription eyewear for profit. Notably, opticians do not need any specialized degrees, nor do they need to obtain a professional license. Rather, an optician need only register with the Medical Board of California.
California law precludes opticians from conducting eye examinations and writing prescriptions for corrective lenses. Since at least 1981, California law has also been understood to prohibit joint franchise or business relationships between retailers of prescription eyewear and optometrists. This includes, most notably, a ban on the establishment of so-called “one-stop shops,” wherein a corporation arranges for an optometrist to provide eye examinations “on or near” the same retail space where prescription eyewear is sold.
Costco continues to offer customers the ability to obtain both an eye examination from an optometrist and eyewear from an optician in its retail stores, a fact which Costco unabashedly advertises on its website, among other places.
As alleged, Costco has violated California law by placing optometrists in its retail stores and offering customers the ability to obtain an eye examination and to purchase the resulting prescription eyewear in the same location. Costco has further violated California law by creating an atmosphere in which professionally licensed optometrists operate for all practical purposes under the influence and control of Costco retail stores. And Costco has further violated California law by advertising the joint nature of its optometrist-retail operation.