Mississippi Litigation Has Significant Implications for Use of the Term ‘Engineer’

Monday, April 23, 2018

Current litigation in the federal courts in Mississippi involving a company calling itself “Tire Engineers” provides NSPE an opportunity to actively assert and advocate in federal court its longstanding policy and position that the misuse of the term “engineer” by unqualified and unlicensed individuals or companies is misleading and deceptive and endangers the public health and safety. A positive outcome in this matter (see attached) could influence other states’ actions on the misuse of the term “engineer.”

In 2017, NSPE was contacted regarding pending litigation in which the Mississippi Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers, with the assistance of the Mississippi attorney general, sought to challenge an auto maintenance/tire company for using the business name Tire Engineers. The company did not engage in the practice of engineering and did not employ professional engineers in rendering its services. At the time, NSPE provided support to the Mississippi attorney general’s office in researching this issue. After negotiations broke down between the state of Mississippi and the company, Tire Engineers challenged Mississippi’s position and filed a declaratory judgment complaint in federal district court in Mississippi.

The federal court concluded that the company’s use of the business name “Tire Engineers” violated the Mississippi PE statute because the name was inherently misleading/deceptive. The court also rejected Tire Engineers’ commercial free speech and Lanham (trademark) Act claims. In its findings and conclusions, the federal court determined that based upon public opinion surveys conducted by an expert for the state of Mississippi, there was clear evidence that Mississippi consumers were being misled/deceived by Tire Engineers’ use of its business name. The court noted that tire engineers are an actual and recognized group of qualified engineers working to design tires in the transportation industry and that, based upon the survey evidence, Mississippi consumers were being misled as to whether Tire Engineers used qualified tire engineers to perform company services and whether Tire Engineers was actually offering engineering services and/or performing its work with the level of skill and training of a qualified engineer.

Tire Engineers has appealed the federal district court’s decision to the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The Mississippi attorney general has requested that NSPE file a “friend of the court” brief in the case in support of the Mississippi Engineering Society. The NSPE Board of Directors is actively considering the case, and NSPE will continue to provide updates regarding this litigation.

For more on the protection of the profession’s good name, read “What's in a Name” in the July/August 2016 issue of PE magazine.

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