A federal magistrate judge has declared that certain parts of state law and its administrative rules that govern engineering practices in Oregon violate the First Amendment.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Stacie F. Beckerman made the ruling Friday in a case filed by a Beaverton man, Mats Järlström , against the Oregon Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying.
Beckerman, in the 25-page written ruling, declared that Järlström may study and, communicate publicly or privately about his theories relating to traffic lights, as long as his remarks occur outside the context of any employment or contractual relationship with a governmental or other group that regulates traffic light-timing.
Jarlstrom also may describe himself publicly and privately, using the word “engineer,’’ the judge ordered.
The ruling is a win for Jarlstrom, who has been challenging state law for years.
Jarlstrom, who holds a bachelors of science degree in engineering from Sweden, has repeatedly challenged Oregon’s timing of yellow traffic lights as too short. He was investigated by the Oregon Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying for the “unlicensed practice of engineering,’’ after he sent his traffic light calculations to the state board, and identified himself as an engineer to local media and the “60 Minutes” TV news program, and in discussions with the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying.
Jarlstrom’s interest stemmed from a red-light-running ticket his wife received in 2013. He spent three years analyzing the method for calculating the duration of a yellow light and found that the formula failed to account for drivers who must slow down to make a legal turn.
The state fined him $500 for violating a state law that governs who may call themselves an engineer, finding he wasn’t an Oregon-registered professional engineer.
State board concedes it violated free speech rights of red-light camera critic
Last year, the state board conceded in court it violated Jarlstrom’s free speech rights and pledged it would not pursue the Beaverton man any further when he’s not acting in a commercial or professional manner and urged a federal judge to dismiss the case. The state also refunded its $500 fine against Jarlstrom.
The Beaverton man and his lawyer countered that the state’s proposed settlement didn’t go far enough.
Järlström, backed by a lawyer from the national Institute for Justice, asked the court to take a broader look at the state law and its administrative rules and declare them unconstitutional. In the alternative, the state law should be restricted to only regulating engineering communications that are made as part of paid employment or a contractual agreement, his lawyers argued.
Beckerman ruled that the state’s definition of an “engineer’’ is overbroad, and cited the state board’s “history of overzealous enforcement actions.’’
She directed the state to remove the definition of “engineer,” from its state law and administrative rules, and simply restrict who can consider themselves a “professional engineer,” or a “registered professional engineer.”
The state’s limits that bar anyone who is not registered as a professional engineer in Oregon from describing themselves as an engineer violate the First Amendment, the judge ruled.
“First, the statutes prohibit truthfully describing oneself as an ‘engineer,’ in any context,’’ the judge wrote. “This restriction clearly controls and suppresses protected speech, and enforcement of the statute against protected speech is not a hypothetical threat. The record before this Court demonstrates that the Board has repeatedly targeted individuals for using the title ‘engineer’ in non-commercial contexts, including core political speech such as campaigning for public office and advocacy against a local ballot initiative.’’
Unlike an “M.D.” or “certified public accountant,” there is no fixed meaning to the title “engineer,” but many different types of engineers, the judge found.
The judge also ruled that Järlström may describe himself publicly and privately using the word “engineer,’’ and the state board can’t enforce the Professional Engineer Registration Act, or any of its regulations against Järlström for what he did regarding the traffic-light timing.
The court noted the state has since adopted new regulations that will prevent the board from taking similar regulatory actions against Järlström or others like him who engage in engineering outside of a commercial or professional context.
— Maxine Bernstein
Email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow on Twitter @maxoregonian