Phoenix, Ariz.—Today, in a unanimous decision, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that Greg Mills and his company, Southwest Engineering Concepts (“SOENCO”), can sue the Board of Technical Registration to protect his constitutional right to call himself an engineer and continue his engineering career. The decision makes it easier for people to take government boards and other administrative agencies to court when they threaten people’s constitutional rights.
Greg is an engineer and has worked as an engineer in Arizona for more than two decades. And, like 80% of all engineers, he is not a state-registered “professional engineer” because it is not relevant to his work. Since 2008, Greg has owned his own engineering consulting firm, SOENCO, where he designs, analyzes, tests and builds electronic circuits for a variety of consumer products.
But in 2019 the Board of Technical Registration, which regulates engineers, as well as architects, surveyors, and other occupations, threatened Greg with prosecution for calling himself an engineer and working as an engineer without being registered. They pressured Greg to enter into a “consent agreement” that would fine him $3000 and require him to stop calling himself an engineer or working at his own company. And when Greg refused to agree, the Board voted to double the fine and again pressured him to comply with the agreement.
To protect his rights to speak and work against the Board’s threats, Greg, with the help of the nonprofit Institute for Justice, sued. The Maricopa County Superior Court, however, dismissed his lawsuit, concluding that Greg had to first wait for the Board to finish its administrative prosecution—which could take years—before he could assert his constitutional rights in a court. Greg appealed the decision, lost, and then appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court.
Today’s decision from the Arizona Supreme Court reverses those decisions and allows Greg to return to the trial court to assert his free speech and economic liberty claims. As the Court explained, forcing Greg to wait for the Board to finish prosecuting him “would be pointless because the Board is powerless” to determine Greg’s constitutional rights. Moreover, the Court ruled that most of Greg’s constitutional claims were “ripe” because the Board’s threats gave Greg a “real and present need to know whether” the laws he challenged were unconstitutional.
“The Arizona Constitution and statutes protect Greg’s right to go to court as soon as his rights are threatened,” said IJ-AZ Managing Attorney Paul Avelar. “Arizona law makes clear people don’t have to live under a cloud of uncertainty when their rights are threatened. Today’s decision is yet another rebuke of government attempts to threaten people’s rights and then deny them a timely day in court.”
With the court of appeals’ judgment reversed, Greg will now be going back to Maricopa County Superior Court to argue that the Board’s ban on calling himself an engineer or offering his engineering services to clients, violates his constitutional rights.
“If the Board had their way, I’d already be out of business,” said Greg. “I just want to run my business in peace and be able to call myself what I am, an engineer. I want to continue providing product development and engineering services to individuals and private companies, as I always have. I look forward to defending my rights in court.”