A Chandler engineer is suing the state for government overreach after regulators threatened to slap him with a $6,000-fine for not registering his work.
Greg Mills, owner of Chandler’s Southwest Engineering Concepts, is accusing the Arizona Board of Technical Registration of violating his constitutional rights in a lawsuit filed last month in Superior Court.
Mills claims the board trampled on his due process rights by threatening to shut down his business of designing electronic circuits.
“There are satellites in space using circuits I’ve designed. And yet Arizona says I can’t design something as simple as a flashlight or a battery-powered misting system without getting a useless license,” Mills wrote in a statement.
Mills alleges he had been working as a consultant for 12 years without any issues until a client filed a complaint against him this year with the board.
The client hired Mills to develop a recharging unit for a special umbrella cooling its users through a built-in misting system. Mills estimated his work would initially cost $4,000. He raised the estimate by $800 after the client asked for modifications.
The client rejected the price increase and reported Mills to the board for doing unlicensed work. The board notified Mills it was opening an investigation.
Mills told the board he was not in violation of the state’s regulations.
“Nobody at Southwest Engineering Concepts has ever worked in any board-regulated profession,” Mills wrote in a letter. “Nor has any owner or employee advertised or indicated the company or individual is a licensed or registered professional engineer.”
The board rejected his assertions and offered to settle the complaint with fine of $3,000. Mills refused to settle so the board doubled his fine.
The Institute of Justice, a libertarian-minded law firm, is representing Mills and argues the board’s regulatory powers are too broad and stifling toward business.
“The board’s definition of engineering is so vague nearly anyone designing or building anything in Arizona could conceivably require a burdensome and unnecessary license,” said Paul Avelar, the institute’s managing attorney, in a statement.
The institute filed a similar lawsuit in Oregon after a man referred to himself as an engineer in an email to his state’s Board of Engineers. The board penalized the man with a $500 fine since he was not registered with the state.
A federal judge ruled in favor of the Oregon man earlier this year, finding the state’s actions unconstitutional.
The institute has now set its sights on Arizona’s regulatory system, hoping to obtain a similar result as its Oregon case.
Ironically, the Ducey Administration has boasted about its efforts to pare down the state’s regulations on businesses and some professions to make Arizona a friendlier place for companies to set up shop.
According to the lawsuit, Mills has more than 30 years of experience working as an engineer in the private sector. When the economy took a downturn in 2007, Mills branched off on his own to start a consulting business.
Because Mills had previously worked through the manufacturing industry, the law did not require him to register as an engineer with the state.
The requirements to obtain registration include eight years of education or experience, passing two lengthy exams, and having a “good, moral character.”
Mills did not work under any registered engineers throughout his industry experience, which his attorneys argue makes it difficult for him to satisfy the board’s requirements.
“Because registration is irrelevant to most engineers, an overwhelming majority of engineers – somewhere around 80 percent nationwide – do not pursue licensing as a principal engineer,” the lawsuit states.
Furthermore, the laws prohibit license applicants from practicing engineering for two years before submitting their application. Mills argues he would have to close his consulting business before he could actually apply for registration.
“It would take Greg months, if not years, to complete this application process, even assuming he was eligible to complete it in the first place,” the lawsuit states.
All these requirements jeopardize the plaintiff’s economic liberty, his attorneys allege, and his ability to financially support his family.
Arizona’s regulations are intended to ensure bridges and buildings are designed safely by qualified engineers. But Mills thinks rationale doesn’t apply to him since he only works on small-powered prototypes that go through a third-party safety analysis.
The board did not respond to requests for comment but told other media outlets it plans a “robust defense” against the lawsuit’s claims.