In New York, disciplinary actions against most license-holders, such as professional engineers, are filed before the Office of the Professions (OP). The OP commences disciplinary action proceedings against professional engineers upon the institution of a complaint. Usually, a committee formed with the New York State Board for Engineering and Land Surveying is assembled to review the merits of the complaint.
Usual Grounds for Complaints Against Professional Engineers
Most grounds for complaints that are specific to professional engineers are:
Negligence or Incompetence
When a professional engineer is found to be negligent or competent in the performance of his work, it could lead to disciplinary action.
Fraud or Misrepresentation
As in most licensed professions, honesty and transparency in the work is important. For this reason, fraud and misrepresentation to clients may be grounds for disciplinary action.
Failure to Obtain Proper Permits or Approvals
When professional engineers are responsible for obtaining the necessary permits and approvals for their work, failure to obtain it may lead to disciplinary action, especially when such failure has caused damage to the client.
Violation of Professional Ethics
Every licensed professional usual has a code of professional ethics that it abides by. Violations of this code may lead to disciplinary action.
Violation of Safety Codes or Regulations
Professional engineers are expected to know safety codes and regulations. When these engineers draw up plans that violate or are not in compliance with safety codes or regulations, clients can file disciplinary action complaints, especially when these violations have caused harm.
However, there are also other grounds that are general to all licensed professionals which can be reasons for a disciplinary action.
Other Reasons for Instituting a Complaint in a Disciplinary Action Against a Professional Engineer
Under New York State Education Law § 6509, the following are grounds for disciplinary action. These grounds apply to all licensed professionals, which include professional engineers:
- Obtaining a license fraudulently
- Practicing fraudulently, beyond the scope of the profession, with gross incompetence, or with gross negligence
- Practicing while impaired by alcohol, drugs, or physical or mental disability
- Being habitually drunk or habitually dependent on narcotics or other drugs
- Being convicted of a crime or being found guilty of improper professional practice or professional misconduct in another state
- Refusing to provide service based on race, color, creed, or national origin
- Permitting or assisting an unlicensed person to commit acts requiring a license
- Practicing without a license or with a suspended license or failing to register or notify the department of a change of address
- Additional unprofessional conduct as defined in the rules and regulations of the Board of Regents
Procedure for Investigation and Hearing
Complaints against most licensed professionals, including professional engineers, are filed with the New York State Department of Education’s Office of the Professions. The professional engineer has the right to defend himself against the allegations. It is important to contact a professional license defense attorney who can help you prepare a strong legal defense and if applicable, help you negotiate the best terms possible for a consent order. Contacting a professional license defense attorney at the earliest possible opportunity ensures you raise a strong defense from the onset and not in the middle of the process.
The disciplinary process begins with a complaint filed before the Office of the Professions. It is then referred to a Professional Conduct Officer who then confers with a professional member of the state board for engineering and land surveying to decide whether there is substantial evidence of misconduct and further proceedings should continue or there is no evidence of misconduct and the complaint should be dismissed.
If the complaint involves a question of professional expertise, the Professional Conduct Officer may seek the agreement of at least two members of a three-person panel from the state board for engineering to decide whether or not to pursue the action.
Filing of Charges
If the Professional Conduct Officer decides that further proceedings are warranted, the officer prepares the charges which state the alleged misconduct and the supporting facts.
The charges and notice of hearing are served on the professional engineer to give the licensee the opportunity to refute the allegations.
The licensee usually has 20 days from receipt to answer the charges.
Expedited Procedure vs. Full Hearing
Depending on the severity of the charge, the procedure may be expedited (if the charge is minor) or a full hearing may be required for contested or unresolved issues arising from the expedited procedure.
Expedited procedure usually involves minor or technical violations. During this process, the office may offer the architect a settlement that foregoes a formal hearing. The professional license defense attorney can help negotiate a consent decree that contains the best possible terms and that protects the professional license.
Full hearing is utilized in contested or unresolved issues. The hearing panel consists of three persons, two of whom are members of the state architecture board. A licensed attorney is also appointed as administrative officer to rule on matters of motion, procedures, and legal objections. Guilt is proven by a preponderance of evidence.
In a full hearing, an attorney for the Department of Education presents his evidence in support of the charges, while the professional engineer can request for the issuance of subpoena, can produce witnesses and evidence, can cross-examine witnesses, and can examine evidence against him.
A hearing report is prepared with the findings of fact, a recommendation of determination of guilty or not guilty for each charge and the penalties to be imposed for each finding of guilty charge.
Board of Regents Review Committee
The hearing report is reviewed by the Board of Regents Review Committee, who makes a written report to the Board of Regents.
Board of Regents Decision
The Board of Regents reviews the transcript, the hearing report, and the written report prepared by the review committee, and issues the final order, deciding on the professional engineer’s guilt or innocence on each charge and the proper penalty for the guilty charge.
If the Board of Regents, however, disagrees with the hearing panel’s recommendation that the professional engineer is not guilty, it sends the matter back to either the original panel or a new hearing panel for reconsideration.
If the panel once again determines the licensee as not guilty, such determination is final.
The Board of Regents’ order takes effect on the date of personal service or five days after mailing by certified mail. The order may be appealed to the Third Department, Supreme Court Appellate Division pursuant to Article 78 of the CPLR.
The Board of Regents may impose the following penalties:
- Censure or reprimand
- Suspension of license
- Revocation of license
- Limitation on license
- Community service
Defending the license of a professional engineer requires an in-depth knowledge of the rules of procedure, as well as an understanding of some aspects of the profession, especially when the grounds for the complaint are specific to the profession. Hiring an experienced professional license defense attorney who specializes with the defense of professional engineers can minimize any risk of losing your professional license. Should you need legal representation in the defense of your professional license, the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin are here for you. We have offices in New York, NY, Brooklyn, NY, and Queens, NY. You can call us at 718-509-9774 or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.