NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It's a major step, even what some might call a victory, for the state in its case against HRC Medical, a chain of hormone replacement clinics that once called Nashville home.
Nearly three years ago, the Tennessee attorney general sued HRC after a NewsChannel 5 investigation exposed questionable claims being made about the company's heavily promoted hormone replacement therapy.
But now the judge has made a significant ruling, finding HRC and its owners violated the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act.
It's a decision that has the potential to substantially advance the case.
After years of legal wrangling, it had looked like it was still going to be a long time before a trial in the state's lawsuit against HRC Medical.
But late Monday, Circuit Court Judge Amanda McClendon released a 39-page ruling in the case agreeing with many of the more substantial allegations made by the attorney general against the company and its owners, brothers Don and Dr. Dan Hale.
Included was what state prosecutors maintained was deceptive advertising.
The judge wrote that HRC's ads about its bio-identical hormone replacement therapy were misleading and, in some cases, totally false.
In one ad, Dr. Hale rhetorically asked, "Is it safe?" And, then he answered, "There are no side effects. Nothing, but good effects."
But court documents indicate Dr. Hale was asked about those claims and later admitted that "this was an overstatement."
And the judge said ads where the company claimed its therapy was "completely safe" and had no or minimal possible side effects clearly violated the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act.
In addition, claims that it could restore a patient's hormone levels to what they had in their 20s or 30s were also overstated, HRC later admitted -- and, as a result, the judge said those claims were not only misleading, but illegal.
So were HRC's ads featuring its employees and family members who presented themselves simply as satisfied customers, never revealing their connection to the company, the judge ruled.
The Hales had asked the McClendon to dismiss the case, but the judge denied that request.
Still, she ruled that the state did not present enough evidence to support several other allegations.
Prosecutors will now have to decide if they want to try to prove those or if they want to move on to the liability phase of the case and determine how much HRC and the Hales will have to pay the state and, in the end, the company's more than 8,000 former customers.
The Attorney General's Office says it has not made a decision yet about its next move, but it's pleased with the judge's ruling and how it moves the case one step closer to resolution.
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