NSPE Weighs in on Mississippi ‘Tire Engineers’ Case

September/October 2018

PE Report
NSPE Weighs in on Mississippi ‘Tire Engineers’ Case

NSPE recently signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief in a case involving a company that believes its rights were violated by a Mississippi law prohibiting the use of the title “engineer” by individuals and businesses that aren’t licensed to practice engineering.

When Express Oil Change LLC changed the name of its tire sale and service center to Tire Engineers in 2015, the Mississippi Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Surveyors notified the company of the violation of state law. A person or business is prohibited from using the term “engineer” in a commercial identification, title, or name, unless the individual or company is licensed to perform engineering services by the state licensing board.

Express Oil Change filed a lawsuit claiming that the licensing board misinterpreted its governing statutes and infringed upon the company’s First Amendment rights by prohibiting its use of “Tire Engineers.” The Alabama-based company maintains nine service centers in Mississippi.

In February, a federal district court upheld the state actions against EOC, rejecting the free speech and trademark rights claims in the case. Although the company’s website states, “Tire Engineers have tire engineers who are qualified to service customers’ tires,” the district court concluded that the business name Tire Engineers is likely to deceive and mislead consumers to believe that services are provided by a recognized group of qualified engineers working to design tires in the transportation industry.

Upon EOC filing an appeal in May to the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the Mississippi attorney general requested that NSPE submit an amicus brief along with the American Council of Engineering Companies and the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The brief argues that the use of the term “tire engineer” to describe auto service mechanics is inherently misleading to the public and that “tire engineer” has a well-established meaning: a professional engineer with specialized knowledge and experience working with tires. For example, the brief says, “Tire Engineers states the reason is ‘to distinguish its automotive services from those offered by competitors.’ But the only distinguishing characteristic that Tire Engineers’ name suggests is that, unlike its competitors, Tire Engineers employs actual professional tire engineers. This suggestion is false.”

NSPE believes that state licensing laws for design professionals are predicated upon and justified to protect the public health, safety, and welfare. The public is best served by the licensure of all qualified individuals within the engineering profession.