Supreme Court of Ohio takes on judicial deference in case involving engineering and surveying licensing
February 15, 2022
Columbus, Ohio; February 15, 2022: Today, the Supreme Court of Ohio announced it will review the case of a small business owner in Cincinnati whose company, TWISM Enterprises LLC, was wrongly denied a license to operate an engineering and surveying company in the state. The court’s decision could also have far-reaching impact on how judges in the state interpret laws and regulations.
“We are pleased that the Supreme Court of Ohio has agreed to hear Shawn Alexander and TWISM’s case,” said Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Oliver Dunford. “The state was unquestionably incorrect in denying TWISM’s business license and the court of appeals incorrectly deferred to the judgment of the state board. We hope the court will not only restore our client’s rights but also rule that Ohio courts must not defer to agencies’ self-interested legal interpretations.”
Shawn Alexander’s battle with licensing in Ohio began when he applied for a “Certificate of Authorization” from the State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Surveyors. The license law requires a “full-time” engineer, which the board itself defines as an engineer who works substantially all of a firm’s engineering hours. Even though TWISM’s engineer worked all of its engineering hours, the board denied TWISM’s application because its engineer is an independent contractor and not an employee.
The board’s denial contradicted both the law and the board’s own regulations. But when Alexander sued, the court of appeals applied the “judicial deference” doctrine, which requires judges to defer to an executive agency’s legal interpretation of ambiguous statutes, so long as that interpretation is “reasonable”—even if the best interpretation of the law would lead to a different result.
The Supreme Court of Ohio can now end the practice of judicial deference in the state and allow courts to stop government overreach like Shawn Alexander’s company has experienced.
Since 2008, at least nine states have taken steps to end deference. State supreme courts from Mississippi to Utah have struck down deference as confusing and against the principles of separation of powers. In 2018, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey became the first governor in the country to sign into law a statute curtailing judicial deference for administrative agencies.
The case is TWISM Enterprises v. State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Surveyors. Oral argument has not been scheduled.
Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 34 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 14 victories out of 16 cases litigated at the U.S. Supreme Court.