Federal Supreme Court: A medical care centre may not use the title doctor in its name without a doctor as medical director

With the assistance of KLAKA, the Oberpfalz District Dental Association prevails against Dr. Z Medical Care Centre in a dispute over the name

Munich/Karlsruhe, 15.04.2021: A dental practice operating in the form of a medical care centre may not call itself "Dr. Z Medical Care Centre" if the medical director is not a dentist with a doctorate and there is no clear indication of this fact. This was held by the Federal Supreme Court in a landmark ruling (Case No.: I ZR 126/19).

The action was brought by the Oberpfalz District Dental Association (Zahnärztlicher Bezirksverband Oberpfalz, ZBVO), which considered the company name that included the title doctor to be misleading advertising. The ZBVO was represented at the lower instances by KLAKA Rechtsanwälte under the leadership of Ralf-Michael Burkhardt. Prof. Dr. Christian Rohnke of the Karlsruhe law firm Rohnke Winter Rechtsanwälte acted as Federal Supreme Court counsel in the appeal on a point of law.

The defendant is a limited liability company with registered office in Düsseldorf. Its sole shareholder and managing director is a dentist with a doctorate. It operates several dental care centres in Germany under the name "Dr. Z Medizinisches Versorgungszentrum", including in Regensburg, where no dentist with a doctorate worked between December 2016 and February 2017.

In its judgement reversing the first instance decision (Case No.: 37 O 37/17), the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court (Case No.: I-2 U 51/18) had found that the name component "Dr. Z" in the name of the dental medical care centre in R. was not misleading, relying on several decisions of the 2nd Senate on a company law issue. The Karlsruhe judges overturned this decision.

The 1st Senate of the Federal Supreme Court expressly refrained from following the opinion of the 2nd Senate in the cases it had decided concerning the continuation of the name of a partnership despite the withdrawal of the sole name-giver with a doctorate. In a number of decisions, the 2nd Senate had taken the untenable view that the reason for the esteem of a doctoral title was merely that it was evidence of a completed university education and that any university graduate could refer to such an education even without an academic degree. The 1st Senate, on the other hand, rightly regards the doctorate as proof of a special academic qualification that goes beyond the university degree. In addition, particularly strict principles apply in the area of health-related advertising to avoid misleading.

"The ruling of the 1st Senate of the Federal Supreme Court is a great step not only for all dentists and medical doctors with a doctorate," explains lawyer and partner Ralf-Michael Burkhardt of the law firm KLAKA Rechtsanwälte, who had represented the Oberpfalz District Dental Association in the proceedings before the Regional Court and the Higher Regional Court. "Patients of medical practices as well as clients of law firms must be able to rely on the fact that a "Dr." in the name means that there is also an expert with a doctorate."

Counsels for the Oberpfalz District Dental Association
KLAKA Lawyers, Munich
Ralf-Michael Burkhardt, lawyer, partner (competition law)

Rohnke Winter Attorneys at Law, Karlsruhe
Prof. Dr. Christian Rohnke, Lawyer, Partner

Federal Supreme Court, 1st Civil Senate
Presiding Judge: Prof. Dr. Thomas Koch
Judge Dr. Christian Löffler
Judge Dr. Martina Schwonke
Judge Jörn Feddersen
Judge Bernd Odörfer

Ralf-Michael Burkhardt, Attorney at Law, Partner
KLAKA Attorneys at Law Munich
Phone: +49 (89) 99 89 190 | E-mail: rburkhardt@klaka.com