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Commonwealth Court Addresses Engineer Licensure Requirements

On May 24, 2016, the Commonwealth Court in Se. Reprographics, Inc. v. Bureau of Prof’l & Occupational Affairs, No. 2235 C.D. 2014, 2016 WL 2979844 (Pa. Commw. Ct. May 24, 2016) addressed an issue of first impression and held that the petitioner did not perform an “engineering land survey” in violation of the Engineer, Land Surveyor and Geologist Registration Law (Law), 63 P.S. §§ 148 – 158.2, when it used maps and mobile GPS/GIS equipment to locate and identify a customer’s physical assets for a non-engineering purpose.

Southeastern Reprographics, Inc., now known as The Davey Resource Group (“DRG”), was commissioned by Central Electric Cooperative, Inc. (“CEC”), a rural electric distribution cooperative, to locate every piece of electric equipment owned by CEC, including transmission poles, distribution poles, security and street light poles, mounted equipment, regulators, and meters. The purpose of this field inventory was to provide CEC with sufficient information to create a GIS database of its existing assets. Using GIS/GPS technology, DRG assessed over 100 square miles of land, located CEC’s assets to sub meter accuracy, took an inventory of all equipment at each location, and identified and tagged the equipment. DRG then transferred this data to CEC in the form of x-y coordinates to be electronically plotted on a base map.

Based on this information, the State Registration Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, and Geologists (the “Board”) concluded that DRG performed an “engineering land survey” as defined by the Law when it determined by measurement methods the position of fixed objects on the Earth’s surface through the use of GIS/GPS equipment. According to the Board, DRG violated the Law when it conducted this “engineering land survey” without the necessary license.

On review, the Commonwealth Court reversed the Board’s determination. Agreeing with DRG, the Court held that “‘engineering land surveys’ regulated or encompassed under the Law are those that are performed in connection with or related to building construction and land development.” And because DRG’s field inventory of CEC’s assets was performed purely so that CEC could create a GIS database of its electrical equipment, it was not an “engineering land survey” as defined by the Law.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge McCullough cautioned the Court against overturning legal determinations based on the Board’s extensive “technical expertise.” Judge McCollough also noted that the Law’s licensure requirements are in place to “to safeguard life, health or property and to promote the general welfare.” And because CEC shared DRG’s maps with PA One Call and EMS services for six or seven different counties, Judge McCollough believed that the risk of not properly identifying and locating electrical infrastructure was so great that it should only be entrusted to a licensed professional. The dissent also expressed dissatisfaction with the majority’s limiting the definition of “engineering land survey” to surveying activities performed in connection with building construction or land development.

Overall, the Court’s opinion demonstrates that licensure under the Law is not required to simply determine the location of objects on the Earth’s surface. However, design professionals should be aware that they must be licensed under the Law before performing any surveying activities in conjunction with building construction or land development.