As an engineer, you have completed all the coursework and passed the examinations necessary to obtain your professional license under Texas law. However, if you receive notice that someone has filed a complaint against you with the Texas Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors (TBPELS), you likely feel overwhelmed and unsure where to turn first. No matter how unfounded the allegations against you may be, you should always take disciplinary complaints seriously to protect your professional certification and career. Contacting an experienced Texas engineering license defense lawyer should be your first step if you receive notice of a complaint against you.
The TBPELS Complaint Process
When TBPELS receives a complaint about a licensed professional engineer, an investigator reviews the complaint for jurisdiction, completeness, and evidence of a violation. The investigator speaks with the appropriate parties, gathers information, and prepares a summary of the complaint and the recommended disposition for review by various agency officials.
If the Executive Director (ED) of TBPELS recommends dismissal, the complainant receives an opportunity to submit more information for review within 30 days. If TBPELS receives no other information, the complainant and respondent receive a notice of dismissal. However, if the complainant submits additional information, the complaint goes through the review process again.
If ED recommends the case for further action, the respondent receives notice of the complaint and a request for rebuttal, to be submitted within three weeks. Upon receiving the rebuttal, the investigator reviews the case and determines whether to recommend dismissal, find violations, or propose sanctions.
TBPELS officials review the investigator’s recommendations, and the Director of Compliance & Enforcement (DC&E) proposes a potential administrative sanction and justification for the sanction. The ED retains the authority to sanction the respondent with an administrative penalty or dismiss the complaint.
Consent Orders and Agreed Board Orders
If the ED determines that a respondent has violated the applicable law or regulations, the agency will prepare a Consent Order that outlines the violation(s) and contains administrative sanctions. If the respondent signs and returns the Consent Order, the Board must review and approve it at its next quarterly meeting to become final and effective.
On the other hand, if the respondent refuses to sign the Consent Order, they must request a meeting with the Informal Conference Committee of the Board. Following the informal conference, the Committee may recommend further investigation, dismissal, a sanction in the form of an Agreed Board Order, or referral to the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). Finally, if the respondent signs the Agreed Board Order, it goes to the Board for approval at the next quarterly meeting.
If the respondent does not request an informal conference or the Committee recommends referral to the SOAH, then SOAH will handle the next stage of the case. SOAH will assign a neutral administrative law judge (ALJ) to hold a hearing in the case. The ALJ will follow SOAH administrative rules in handling the case, which proceeds much like a court trial. After the ALJ has heard evidence from the respondent and the agency, the ALJ will draft proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, along with the recommended disposition of the case, for Board approval.
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Potential Sanctions for Violation of TBPELS Laws and Rules
22 Tex. Admin. Code §139.31 provides that TBPELS may issue the following sanctions against professional engineers and engineering firms who have violated applicable state laws:
- License or registration revocation
- License or registration suspension
- Probation of a suspended license or registration
- Refusal to renew a license or registration
- Issuance of a formal or informal reprimand
- Issuance of a cease and desist order
- Voluntary compliance agreement
- Emergency suspension
- Assessment of an administrative penalty
TBPELS determines which sanction is appropriate in each case based on the factors outlined in 22 Tex. Admin Code §139.35:
- the seriousness of the violation, including the nature, circumstances, extent, and gravity of the prohibited act and the hazard or potential hazard created to the health, safety, or economic welfare of the public;
- the history of prior violations of the respondent;
- the severity of penalty necessary to deter future violations;
- efforts or resistance to efforts to correct the violations;
- the economic harm to property or the environment caused by the violation; and
- any other matters impacting justice and public welfare, including any economic benefit gained through the violations.
This code section also contains tables of suggested sanctions that TBPELS may impose against a person or business entity for violations of laws or Board rules and violations involving firm registration. Another table lists suggested sanctions for governmental entities and their representatives for violating laws or Board rules.
However, TBPELS need not follow the recommended or suggested sanctions in this code section. As a result, individual engineers, engineering firms, or governmental entities could receive greater or lesser sanctions than those suggested.
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Defend Yourself Against Disciplinary Proceedings Involving Your Engineering License
Do not allow an isolated complaint to wreak havoc on your career. Losing your ability to support yourself will only worsen your situation. If you are facing the loss of your engineering license for any reason, we can help you take the steps necessary to challenge your disciplinary proceedings. Contact a professional engineering license defense attorney at Bertolino LLP, for advice today. Make an appointment by calling (512) 515-9518 or contact us online to see how we can help.