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August 1st, 2017
architects and engineers
MISSOURI COURT OF APPEALS INTERPRETS STATUTE REGARDING WHAT IS INCIDENTAL TO THE PRACTICE OF ARCHITECTURE

In Curtis v. Miss. Board For Architects, Prof. Engineers, Prof. Land Surveyors, and Prof. Landscape Architects, No. WD 80174, 2017 WL 2241516 (Mo. Ct. App. May 23, 2017), the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the Missouri Board of Architects, Professional Engineers, Professional Land Surveyors, and Professional Landscape Architects’ (the “Board”) disciplinary order against an architect for violations of a previous probation order.  Donald Dustin Curtis was an architect based in Arizona and licensed in multiple jurisdictions, including Missouri.  Mr. Curtis’s license was placed on probation in Missouri for one year after he failed to inform the Board of disciplinary action in Nevada.  As part of his probation Mr. Curtis was required to submit his plans for any projects in Missouri to the Board for review. 

Mr. Curtis allegedly violated his probation by providing plans and drawings to the Board for Review that included plumbing and lighting changes, which the Board concluded required the services of a licensed mechanical or electrical engineer. Mr. Curtis appealed the Board’s decision to the Missouri Court of Appeals, arguing the engineering he provided was merely “incidental to the practice of architecture” and therefore was allowed.

The Court of Appeals, as a matter of first impression, interpreted the definition of the term “incidental practice” as found in Mo. Ann. Stat. § 327.011(9).  The Court rejected the Board’s implication that only the Board can determine what work is incidental to the practice of architecture and that Courts have no basis make such a determination. The Court of Appeals held Courts may look at the evidence contained in the record to establish whether conduct can be considered an “incidental practice.” 

The Court then concluded Mr. Curtis’s failure to understand and apply engineering concepts related to plumbing and lighting, including necessary standards and calculations, was sufficient evidence to determine Mr. Curtis exceeded the scope of engineering “incidental” to architectural work. The Court recognized the scope of engineering performed by Mr. Curtis was substantially less than typical engineers and that Mr. Curtis had education and experience in engineering.  However, the Court noted that Mr. Curtis could not “safely and completely” perform the work.  Based on this lack of experience, the Board found the engineering work was more than simply “incidental,” because Mr. Curtis lacked the education, experience or training to complete it safely.   

The issue of what amount of engineering an architect is allowed to perform is a big problem around the country.  This decision gives us further insight as to the definition of “incidental practice” by tying the issue back to the technical ability of the architect to do the work. The Court’s interpretation still did not directly address exactly what types of evidence are essential to the decision as to what constitutes more than the “incidental” practice of architecture, meaning there is still plenty of ambiguity.  Architects should remain cautious in providing engineering design and, when possible, engage a licensed engineer to provide this service.

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