In the past few months, two state regulatory bodies were found to have violated free speech rights by prohibiting people and business from using the word "engineer".
1. Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying (OR Board)
After his wife received in 2013 a ticket from a red-light camera, Mats Järlström began studying red-light cameras and publicizing his results. In some of his publications, he said he was an engineer -- he had an engineering degree. However, under Oregon law, only persons registered with the OR Board can call themselves an engineer. In 2017, Mr. Järlström sued the OR Board for violating his free speech rights (Järlström v. Christopher D. Aldridge, et al., D. Or., Case 3:17-cv-652-SB, December 29, 2018).
On December 28, 2018, U.S. Magistrate Judge Stacie F. Berckerman found the OR Board violated Mr. Järlström's free speech rights (Opinion at p.5), and that the Oregon law that prohibits anyone from holding themselves out as an engineer unless registered was unconstitutional (Opinion at p.22). The Court found that the Oregon law failed to test to regulate commercial speech in Central Hudson, 447 U.S. 557 (1980). The law failed Central Hudson's second prong because the OR Board failed to demonstrate that the Oregon law advanced the government’s interest in a direct and material way. The law also failed Central Hudson's third prong because the OR Board failed to show the regulation was only as extensive as reasonably necessary to further substantial interests.
2. Mississippi Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers & Surveyors (MS Board)
Express Oil Change operates automobile service centers under the "Tire Engineers" trademark. The MS Board determined that the business name violated the law because it used the term Engineer, and requested that the business change its name. Express Oil Change refused and sued. The federal district court found in the MS Board's favor.
Express Oil Change appealed. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, reversed (Express Oil Change, LLC v. Mississippi Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers & Surveyors, 5th Cir., No. 18-60144, February 19, 2019). The Court of Appeals found that the term “Tire Engineers” was commercial speech, and that the Mississippi law failed to meet Central Hudson's third prong because the MS Board failed to show the regulation was no more extensive than necessary to serve the identified interest, in particular, why a disclaimer would not be sufficient.
Image by Alexander Dummer from Pexels.