Recently, I have seen an uptick in professional licensure questions regarding engineering peer-reviews. Sometimes, in today’s interconnected world, state borders can be mistakenly overlooked on large-scale construction projects—especially in a peer-review context where a professional is simply rendering an opinion. Engineers licensed in one state may be asked to provide their expertise on projects taking place in other states. So, what are the general rules? Can a professional engineer licensed in one state provide a third-party review (also known as a peer review) of engineering designs for a project located in a state where the engineer is not licensed?
Each state’s professional licensure laws are different, but the default rule-of-thumb is No—you must be licensed in the state where the project is located in order to render a professional opinion regarding that project. And, in many instances, if that engineer is working for a business entity, that entity must be registered in the project-state as well. To provide examples, the law in California and Minnesota is analyzed below.
By and large, California licenses individuals, not business entities. However, one or more civil, electrical, or mechanical engineers may practice or offer to practice (within the scope of their license) civil, electrical, or mechanical engineering as a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability partnership, firm, or corporation, if the following requirements are met:
- A civil, electrical, or mechanical engineer currently licensed in California is an owner, partner, or officer in charge of the engineering practice of the business;
- All civil, electrical, or mechanical engineering services in California are performed by, or under the responsible charge of, a professional engineer licensed in California in the appropriate branch of professional engineering; and
- A current organization/entity “record form” is filed with the California Board for Professional Engineers.
With that being said, the crux of the issue is what constitutes the “practice of engineering within the scope of the licensing requirements” in California. Section 6701 of the California Business and Professions Code defines professional engineer as follows:
“Professional engineer,” within the meaning and intent of this act, refers to a person engaged in the professional practice of rendering service or creative work requiring education, training and experience in engineering sciences and the application of special knowledge of the mathematical, physical and engineering sciences in such professional or creative work as consultation, investigation, evaluation, planning or design of public or private utilities, structures, machines, processes, circuits, buildings, equipment or projects, and supervision of construction for the purpose of securing compliance with specifications and design for any such work.
California licenses civil, mechanical, and electrical professional engineers separately, and the definition of those disciplines is even more expansive. For example, the practice of civil engineering (construction projects) is defined in Section 6734, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code, as:
“Any person practices civil engineering when he professes to be a civil engineer or is in responsible charge of civil engineering work.”
Of course, it is unlawful to practice engineering, or use the title of professional engineer in any manner, with regard to a California engineering project without a California license. (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 6704 & 6732). Specifically, the Board’s Enforcement Unit states that if one is making conclusions, determinations, or offering opinions on someone else’s work in California, that is the practice of professional engineering in California requiring a California license.
The Minnesota Board of Engineering licenses individuals. It has not been given authority to determine whether entities engaging in engineering work need to register with the Board. (See M.S.A. § 326.14; http://mn.gov/aelslagid/firms.html).
With regard to individuals, M.S.A. § 326.02, Subdivision 3, states:
Any person shall be deemed to be practicing professional engineering within the meaning of sections 326.02 to 326.15 who holds out as being able to perform or who does perform any technical professional service, such as planning, design or observation of construction for the purpose of assuring compliance with specifications and design, in connection with any public or private structures, buildings, utilities, machines, equipment, processes, works, or projects wherein the public welfare or the safeguarding of life, health, or property is concerned or involved, when such professional service requires the application of the principles of mathematics and the physical and applied engineering sciences, acquired by education or training, and by experience.
Further, M.S.A. § 326.03, Subdivision 1, states:
No person, except an architect, engineer, land surveyor, landscape architect, geoscientist, or certified interior designer, licensed or certified as provided for in sections 326.02 to 326.15 shall practice architecture, professional engineering, land surveying, landscape architecture, or professional geoscience, or use the title certified interior designer, respectively, in the preparation of plans, specifications, reports, plats or other architectural, engineering, land surveying, landscape architectural, geoscientific, or interior design documents, or in the observation of architectural, engineering, land surveying, landscape architectural, geoscientific, or interior design projects. In preparation of such documents, reasonable care shall be given to compliance with applicable laws, ordinances, and building codes relating to design.
Specifically, the Board states that consulting or providing any kind of opinion or reviewing a Minnesota construction/engineering project is the practice of engineering that requires a Minnesota license.
Again, each state will have different rules pertaining to what constitutes the practice of engineering and whether peer-review by nonresident professional engineers is allowed. The specific facts of your situation can drastically affect and change any legal analysis. You should always consult an attorney when you face a potential legal issue or need legal advice.