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U.S. Circuit Court Upholds Florida’s Interior Design Licensing Statute

ASID, IIDA declare Locke vs. Shore decision a victory for Florida interior design community; Institute of Justice says it will appeal


ASID, IIDA, Florida Interior Design

Editor’s Note: This article incorporates elements of a press release issued by the Institute for Justice and posted last week on I& Interiors & Sources would like to reiterate our support for the ruling in favor of Florida’s statute.

The United States Court of Appeals 11th Circuit has ruled that a statute in the state of Florida requiring commercial interior designers to obtain a license to practice is constitutional. The ruling is a blow to the Institute of Justice, the Virginia-based public interest law firm that originally challenged the law in Federal court, claiming that the statute censors free speech and unreasonably interferes with people’s ability to earn an honest living.

The Court unanimously affirmed a 2010 district court decision upholding the law, in which Judge Robert Hinkle wrote “promotes compliance with fire and accessibility codes, helps reduce indoor pollution, and protects consumers.” The statute does not prevent any designer from performing the work they currently do but expands the scope of work for those who meet additional requirements (including work previously reserved for only licensed architects). Interior designers practicing in residential settings in Florida may do so without a license.

News of the ruling was met with approval from both the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and the International Interior Design Association (IIDA).

“We are very pleased that the Court upheld the state’s interior design statute,” said Don Davis, ASID’s director of government and public affairs. “This decision ensures Floridians will continue to benefit from the high quality of services the interior design community provides.”

“IIDA is proud to support the Interior Designers who work tirelessly to advocate for professional regulation – and who are celebrating this decision across the country,” says Allison Levy, IIDA’s senior director of government and regulatory affairs. “ By recognizing that all professionals working in the built environment, including interior designers, have met certain standards of minimum competency, Florida’s interior design regulation helps consumers know they’re working with someone who is equipped with the latest information to design a space that is not only aesthetically pleasing but is functional and safe.”

The Court rejected, among other things, the Appellants’ contention that the Florida legislature’s safety concern does not provide a rational basis for the license requirement.

The Institute of Justice, who originally joined with three interior designers and the National Federation of Independent Business to challenge the law in 2009, took issue with outcome, claiming that the ruling came despite admissions by the state that there is no evidence that the unlicensed practice of interior design poses any threat to the public. The firm also argued that the law requires interior designers in Florida to spend six years and thousands of dollars “jumping through the arbitrary hoops of Flordia’s interior design licensing law.”

“The facts in this case couldn’t be clearer: There isn’t a shred of evidence that Florida’s interior design law does anything but protect licensed interior designers from honest competition,” says Clark Neily, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice. “This ruling sets a dangerous precedent, not just for interior designers, but for workers in all creative occupations.”

Institute for Justice President Chip Mellor says, “This ruling shows the critical importance of judicial engagement. Judges must examine the facts of every case, including constitutional cases, and require the government to justify its actions with real reasons backed by real evidence.  And when there is no evidence to support a law that limits individual liberty, judges should not hesitate to strike it down.”

Believing in Florida’s right to maintain and enforce legislation that serves to protect the public safety and consumers, ASID filed an Amicus Curiae Brief with the Court in support of the proposition that Florida had a rational basis for regulating commercial interior designers. The National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ), which administers the national qualifying examination recognized by the state, also submitted an Amicus Curiae Brief in support of the state’s position. The Institute for Justice has indicated they plan to appeal the ruling.