This past January I attended the PLSO Annual Conference in Portland and found it to be a worthwhile experience. It was a well-organized event and the time I spent was extremely valuable. One of the sessions I attended was focused on how the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering & Land Surveying (OSBEELS) investigates complaints and disciplines surveyors. While there was a lot of good information shared during this session, I also noticed there was a lot of confusion and misinformation that was being discussed related to these issues. With that in mind, I thought there would be value in providing a high-level overview of how we handle complaints that are submitted to the Board.
The vast majority of complaints we receive are filed by the public. By law, we are required to review/consider all complaints that are submitted to us. Once a complaint is received our staff investigators perform a preliminary review to evaluate what, if any, rules or statutes within OSBEELS’s jurisdiction may have been violated. The investigators themselves are not able to make a final determination on this matter, however; they will present the complaint to the Law Enforcement Committee (LEC) for a preliminary review. If the complaint is lacking information, the investigator may notify the person who filed the complaint (complainant) and give them a deadline to provide clarification related to the complaint prior to it going before the LEC. The LEC meets every other month throughout the year on even numbered months (February, April, June, etc.), with Board meetings taking place in odd numbered months (January, March, May, etc.).
As a result of law enforcement cases primarily being complaint-driven, the LEC and staff investigators do not contact potential respondents until after a complaint has been reviewed and determined to be substantial enough to open a case. We understand respondent may be interested in providing a response at this stage of the investigation process, however, the LEC has taken the approach that if a submitted complaint does merit further investigation, then potential respondents do not need to be contacted until that determination has been made during a preliminary review.
After review, if the LEC determines a complaint is insufficient or outside of OSBEELS’s jurisdiction, it will decline to open a case, and the complainant will be notified. If the LEC determines there is reason to move forward with a formal investigation, the investigator will contact the person the complaint is about (Respondent), who then has an opportunity to respond to the allegations and provide information they feel is relevant to the matter. The complainant and respondent can communicate directly with the investigator at any time during this process to ask questions or request information. The investigator will not always contact the complainant during an investigation unless additional information is needed. After receiving responses, the investigator will then review all the information provided by both the complainant and the respondent, and compile a case summary to be presented to the LEC, who then determines whether there has been a violation of statute and/ or rule.
If after thorough review of the case, the LEC determines that there was no misconduct on the part of the respondent, or that the allegations at issue are outside the scope of OSBEELS’s jurisdiction, the LEC may make a recommendation to close the case. This recommendation then goes to the full Board at its next meeting, who then decide whether to accept or reject the LEC’s recommendation.
If after a thorough review of the case, the LEC determines there has been a violation, they will propose disciplinary actions and direct the investigator to issue a Notice of Intent (NOI). A NOI is a legal document that summarizes the allegations against the respondent, the proposed disciplinary actions from the Committee, and provides options to dispute the NOI should the respondent disagree with the allegations or disciplinary actions. The NOI is not a final order, and no action will be taken by the Board at this time. NOIs are mailed to the respondent via certified mail, and respondents are given 21 days from the issuing of an NOI to respond. If the respondent fails to submit a response, or if the 21 days expires before the respondent has submitted a response, OSBEELS will issue a Final Order by Default.
If a respondent receives the NOI and disagrees with the allegations, they can request an informal conference with the LEC during a meeting. This is an opportunity for the respondent to talk with the LEC about the issues identified in the NOI. The respondent can and should be ready to discuss why the allegations contained in the NOI are not accurate and/or to negotiate terms for the proposed disciplinary actions.
If no settlement is reached during the informal conference, the respondent’s right to a formal hearing with an Administrative Law Judge remains, and the case will proceed to hearing.
OSBEELS does not provide a timeline for how quickly cases will be resolved because some cases will take longer than others due to the nature and complexity of the allegations. Cases are typically handled in the order complaints are received, but the LEC has the discretion to assign certain cases higher priority if they deem it necessary. In order to safeguard the public’s life, health, and property, OSBEELS is dedicated to investigating cases in an efficient and thorough manner. However, there may be times when the process does not move as quickly as the parties or the public would like. OSBEELS hopes that in these situations, the parties understand that the LEC must be thorough in its case review to ensure that all parties are treated fairly and that the best resolution can be reached.
Again, this is a very high-level summary of what occurs during the complaint and investigation process. We have much more detailed information available online. Please see the following links on our website:
Also, please feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions or feedback about our processes at Jason.Barbee@oregon.gov. While we have some legal limitations on what can be changed, I’m always open to hearing ideas on what could make our processes easier to understand and comply with.