Attorney General Lockyer Files Consumer Protection Suit Against Pearle Vision
Alleges Unlicensed Practice of Optometry, Deceptive Marketing of Eye Exams
(SAN DIEGO, Calif.) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today filed a consumer protection lawsuit against Pearle Vision, one of the largest retail sellers of eyeglasses, and company founder Stanley Pearle, alleging the unlicenced practice of optometry and use of deceptive marketing and unfair business practices.
"California law seeks to protect consumers from false marketing and from harm when non-optometrists control the practice of optometry," Lockyer said. "We believe Pearle Vision is using improper arrangements with optometrists and deceptive promotions of low-cost eye exams to lure customers to Pearle Vision stores."
The complaint filed in San Diego County Superior Court also names Pearle VisionCare and parent company Cole National Corp. The corporation claims to be one of the largest optical retailers in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean. Pearle Vision operates 24 retail eyeglass stores in the state and Pearle optometrists serve as network providers available to millions of California eye care customers.
"What we find in the Pearle Vision case is a retail eyeglass seller controlling optometrists and using misleading advertising to draw customers into its stores so more eyeglasses can be sold," Lockyer said. "In California, retail eyeglass sellers are prohibited from controlling optometrists. The focus should be on providing consumers with quality eye care, not making cash registers ring from eyeglass sales."
The complaint claims that Pearle advertising falsely promotes that the company can and does provide optometric services, including eye exams, eye care, professional eye care advice and the services of optometrists. The ads have included such tag lines as, "The Doctor is In," "Eye Exams Available," and "Nobody Cares for Eyes Better than Pearle." The lawsuit alleges that Pearl Vision in fact is not licensed to provide optometric services, is prohibited by law from providing optometric services and is prohibited by law from maintaining an optometrist on or near their retail stores.
The consumer protection complaint further alleges that the company's ads falsely represent that the optometrists located near or next door to Pearle Vision are independent. These optometrists in fact have been controlled and subsidized financially by the defendants. Optometrists were found working for Pearle VisionCare, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Cole National Corp., and working inside the Pearle Vision retail optical stores using medical equipment, furniture and office space owned by Pearle Vision.
The complaint alleges the unlicenced practice of optometry by the company and its founder. The complaint states that Stanley Pearle, who is not a licensed optometrist in California, has provided optometric advice on the Pearle Vision web site and participated in the company's misleading and deceptive advertisements.
The complaint seeks to have the defendants halt their deceptive and misleading sales practices, end their practicing of optometry without a license and refund the illegally charged eye dilation fees.
"Complete dilated eye exams are important to protect against glaucoma and other sight-threatening diseases, such as diabetes," Lockyer said. "Charging patients an extra fee for dilation is not only illegal, but could discourage patients from having a thorough eye exam."
Lockyer noted that this is not the first time Pearle Vision has run afoul of these state laws. In 1982, a San Diego Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting Pearle Vision from controlling optometrists through eye care franchises and using advertising that implied the company had optometrists in its retail stores or near its salesrooms.