Hardin Advanced Dentistry Retains Traverse Legal in Its Lawsuit Against Heartland Dental, LLC

Enrico Schaefer - June 24, 2024 - Complex Litigation

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Traverse Legal, PLC has been retained by Dr. Tara Hardin and her dental practice, Tara Hardin DDS, Inc., dba Hardin Advanced Dentistry, in their lawsuit against Heartland Dental, LLC. The case, filed under the name Tara Hardin DDS, Inc. and Tara Hardin v. Heartland Dental, LLC, Case No. 1:22-cv-00542-MRB, is currently pending in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division.  

The Lawsuit Against Private Equity-Backed Heartland Dental 

Heartland Dental, LLC, a subsidiary of private equity firm KKR, admits that it used Dr. Tara Hardin’s photograph to market to other dental practices and dentists without her knowledge or authorization.  Dr. Hardin’s lawsuit addresses the unauthorized use of Dr. Hardin’s image to falsely suggest that Dr. Hardin is affiliated with or had sold her dental practice to Heartland Dental. 

 Summary of Claims in the Hardin Lawsuit Against Heartland Dental: 

  1. Direct Copyright Infringement (17 U.S.C. § 501)

   – Allegation: Heartland Dental reproduced, displayed publicly, created derivative works, and/or distributed a copyrighted photograph of Dr. Hardin without authorization. 

   – Details: The unauthorized use was on Heartland Dental’s website and digital marketing materials, causing monetary damage to TNHD. 

  1. Removal of Copyright Management Information (17 U.S.C. § 1202)

   – Allegation: Heartland removed copyright management information from the photograph of Dr. Hardin. 

   – Details: Heartland Dental removed Dr. Hardin’s identification information from the photograph and distributed it, knowing that this would conceal infringement of the copyright. 

  1. Trademark Infringement, False Affiliation, False Advertising, and Unfair Competition (Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a))

   – Allegation: Heartland used Dr. Hardin’s image and likeness without permission, implying her endorsement and affiliation with Heartland Dental. 

   – Details: This misrepresentation likely caused confusion and deception about Dr. Hardin’s affiliation with Heartland, resulting in damages to her business and reputation  

  1. Ohio Common Law Trademark Dilution

   – Allegation: Heartland Dental’s use of Dr. Hardin’s trademarks diluted plaintiffs’ distinctiveness and effectiveness. 

   – Details: Heartland Dental’s actions eroded the exclusive identification of the trademarks with Dr. Hardin, degrading plaintiffs’ positive associations and causing irreparable harm. 

  1. Ohio Common Law Commercial Misappropriation

   – Allegation: Heartland Dental used Dr. Hardin’s image rights for commercial gain without consent. 

   – Details: This unauthorized use diverted business away from Dr. Hardin and damaged her reputation and goodwill. 

  1. Ohio’s Statutory Right of Publicity (Ohio Rev. Code § 2741 et seq.)

   – Allegation: Heartland Dental used Dr. Hardin’s image rights for commercial purposes without consent. 

   – Details: This use damaged Dr. Hardin by diverting professional dental services and degrading her reputation and brand control. 

  1. Ohio’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act (Ohio Rev. Code § 4165 et seq.)

   – Allegation: Heartland Dental engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices. 

   – Details: Heartland Dental’s conduct caused confusion and misunderstanding about the affiliation between Dr. Hardin and Heartland Dental, damaging Dr. Hardin’s goodwill and resulting in illicit profit for Heartland Dental. 

This case seeks to address the resultant damages to Dr. Hardin’s public image and professional reputation and to recover monetary compensation for the unauthorized use of her image. 

Summary of Factual Allegations Against Heartland Dental LLC 

Business Model: 

Heartland Dental LLC is a dental support organization (DSO) founded by Dr. Rick Workman in 1997, backed by private equity firm, KKR since 2018. The company offers non-clinical, administrative support to dental practices, allowing dentists to focus on patient care. Heartland Dental’s services include assistance with human resources, marketing, IT, supplies, insurance credentialing, and accounting. The organization aims to relieve dentists of administrative burdens to improve their work-life balance and enhance the quality of care they provide.    

Revenue Generation: 

Heartland Dental generates revenue through its affiliation model. They acquire dental practices, offering dentists significant value for their practices and providing ongoing non-clinical support. This model allows Heartland Dental to scale its operations across the United States. The company’s revenue comes from the operations of these affiliated practices, supported by the centralized services Heartland provides.  Heartland is also well financed through traditional lending practices.  

Operations: 

Heartland Dental supports over 2,300 dentists and 16,000 team members in more than 1,400 dental offices across 38 states. The company emphasizes a doctor-led culture, where affiliated dentists retain full clinical autonomy and make all decisions regarding patient care. This structure aims to maintain the unique identity and operational style of each practice while benefiting from Heartland Dental’s extensive support network. 

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You can read more about the lawsuit in this dentistrytoday.com article by Michael Davis.  

Heartland Dental Sued for Alleged Misappropriation and Copyright Infringement of a Doctor’s Image 

Michael W. Davis, DDS 

October 12, 2022 

Dr. Tara N. Hardin and her dental practice, Tara N. Hardin, DDS, Inc., have filed a lawsuit against Heartland Dental, LLC, alleging unauthorized use and exploitation of her image. The lawsuit claims Heartland used Dr. Hardin’s photograph in their marketing materials without permission, falsely implying her endorsement to attract other dentists to sell their practices to Heartland. The case, filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, highlights issues related to Heartland’s business practices, including their aggressive marketing tactics and impact on the autonomy of affiliated dental practices. 

Heartland Dental, the largest dental support organization (DSO) in the United States, is affiliated with over 2,400 dentists in more than 1,600 clinics across 38 states. The company, part of the portfolio of global investment firm KKR & Co., Inc., uses new start-ups and affiliations with existing dental practices to expand its network. 

The article notes that Heartland Dental often employs a “stealth branding” strategy, where the public may not realize their local dental clinic is managed by Heartland. This approach is contrasted with other DSOs that use strong, consistent branding across their practices.  

The company states on its website that its core values  are “Honor – Honesty, integrity, and transparency help us maintain a healthy work environment. We strive to do the right things for the right reasons.” However, the lawsuit includes exhibits showing Heartland using images of well-known dentists such as Dr. Hardin to mislead other dental professionals about the affiliations.  

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Heartland Dental is no stranger to controversy, as noted in this settlement.  

Heartland Dental Settles Fraud Suit for $3 Million 

Heartland Dental, a prominent dental support organization, has agreed to settle a fraud lawsuit for $3 million. The settlement resolves allegations that the company engaged in fraudulent practices concerning dental procedures and insurance claims. Here are the key points of the allegations: 

  1. Fraudulent Insurance Claims: Heartland Dental was accused of submitting false claims to insurance companies for procedures that were either unnecessary or not performed. This practice defrauded insurers and potentially misled patients regarding their treatment needs.
  2. Unlicensed Practices: The lawsuit alleged that Heartland Dental allowed unlicensed individuals to perform dental procedures and write prescriptions. This practice violates medical regulations and jeopardizes patient safety.
  3. Lack of Government Clearance: Heartland was accused of letting dentists write prescriptions without government clearance. This lack of oversight raised significant concerns about the company’s adherence to medical and legal standards.
  4. Misrepresentation of Services: Heartland Dental allegedly misrepresented the nature and extent of the services provided to patients. This misrepresentation aimed to maximize profits at the expense of patient care and ethical standards.
  5. Patient Harm and Deception: The fraudulent activities allegedly led to patient harm and widespread deception, as patients received treatments based on false information or by unqualified individuals.

The $3 million settlement includes penalties and compensation for the fraudulent activities. While Heartland Dental has settled the lawsuit, the allegations have significantly tarnished its reputation, raising questions about its business practices and commitment to patient care. See more about the Heartland Dental fraud allegations here.  

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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by attorney Enrico Schaefer, who has more than 20 years of legal experience as a practicing Business, IP, and Technology Law litigation attorney.