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Obvious incompetence opens licensee to unlicensed practice charge

Some states—and Missouri is one of them—allow architects to do incidental engineering work on a large architectural project without being charged with unlicensed practice. But in a May 23 decision, a Missouri appellate court held that the unlicensed practice of engineering by a licensed architect was so tainted by his perceived lack of knowledge of engineering standards as to rise to impermissible unlicensed practice.

(Curtis v. Missouri Board for Architects, Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Professional Landscape Architects)

As part of a probation incurred for an earlier infringement, the Missouri architectural and engineering board required architect Donald Curtis to submit for inspection his plans for architectural projects. The board subsequently found violations in two of his plans. In one, Curtis performed work that would normally require a licensed mechanical or electrical engineer, and in another he failed to include required contact information in the title block of the project’s plans. After making these discoveries, the board filed probation-violation complaints against Curtis and issued a new three-year probation against him.

Curtis appealed, arguing that the engineering work he had performed was incidental to the project as a whole and thus subject to a statutory exception for unlicensed services related to a licensee’s professional services that are “secondary and substantially less in scope and magnitude when compared to the professional services usually and normally performed” by a licensee in the course of their profession. The work in question comprised less than 10 percent of the cost of Curtis’s services on the total project, and he had substantial training in plumbing and electrical work, he said.

While the court agreed that the work was sufficiently small in scope to fall under the exception and that Curtis had sufficient education and training to complete it, the judges nevertheless expressed concern that Curtis had safely and competently performed the work.

During his board hearing, Curtis’s answers to questions about engineering principle indicated he was lacking knowledge in several key areas of electrical engineering and plumbing; in particular, Curtis had failed to perform several calculations that professionals in those fields would have considered necessary before beginning work. As a result of these deficiencies, and despite the small amount of work and the extensiveness of Curtis’s training in those side fields, the court ruled that the questioned work fell outside the incidental practice exception.

Addressing the other alleged professional violation—the failure to provide the appropriate contact information in the title block of the project’s plans—Curtis noted that another person was the engineer of record on that project and had been responsible for the creation of the plans and the inclusion of contact information; Curtis argued that he could not be disciplined for the other licensee’s failure to include the information.

However, Missouri law holds a project’s architect responsible for the proper inclusion of contact information and so the court held Curtis responsible. “By not ensuring that the engineer’s title block was complete, Mr. Curtis enabled another to violate the law and breached professional confidence and trust.”

The court upheld the board’s decision to impose discipline for the omission and affirmed the board’s decision as a whole.