In order to protect professionals from frivolous lawsuits, a Texas statute provides that lawsuits arising out of the provision of professional services (such as engineering or architecture) must include a certificate of merit. That certificate must include a sworn statement by a qualified expert as to the negligence or other error committed; failure to file the certificate is grounds for dismissal.
To benefit from this statute, merely being a company registered with the Board of Professional Engineers is not adequate. The company must show that at least one licensed individual provided professional services, in order for the statute to apply.
A still unresolved question: Does the Texas statute apply to a suit for damages, alleging that an engineering report was defamatory?
Report Submitted by a Company, Not by an Engineer
CH2M Hill Engineers submitted a report to a Texas municipality that was highly critical of several city employees. Those employees claimed that the report was defamatory and that they were fired or demoted as a result. They sued CH2M Hill for damages.
CH2M Hill moved to dismiss the suit, because the plaintiffs’ suit did not include a certificate of merit. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss, and CH2M Hill appealed.
The Beaumont Court of Appeals, an intermediate Texas appellate court, agreed with the trial court that no certificate was necessary. While CH2M Hill had a company registration, CH2M Hill was unable to identify a professional engineer or other licensed individual that provided services. The report was signed only by the firm, and CH2M Hill did not submit any evidence that its project manager or other person who worked on the report was a licensed professional. Therefore, the statute requiring a certificate of merit did not apply.
Does Statute Apply to Allegedly Defamatory Statements in an Engineering Report?
The Court did not decide if a suit for defamation for allegedly false statements in an engineering report is a claim for damages arising out of the provision of professional services. It appears that this issue is still unresolved, in Texas.
For a copy of the Beaumont Court of Appeals decision Click here.