Guest Editorial: When Surveyors Go Bad

A 113Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with charts—is available by clicking HERE

We have been looking at public records of state board of licensure disciplinary cases looking for general trends or areas where surveyors get in trouble. This article is a preliminary report of what is expected to become a broader and more in-depth study.

We have records going back to the early 1970s from various state boards, but for a more relevant picture, we decided to include only those cases documented in the last 10 years (19942004). These records are available in various forms on the Internet as published by the various state boards. Some cases are included in state board newsletters. Others appear in general disciplinary files covering several professions. We were able to include records from 37 states covering various time periods. One state, Hawaii, has online disciplinary records for the past few years, but lists no record of any actions against surveyors. Another state, Texas, lists cases from 1999 and 2000 but has no recent listings. Other states are also not current in the disciplinary case listings resulting in no recent (2003 and/or 2004) cases. Twelve states have no online disciplinary actions available at all (at least at the time of this review). Six states have continuous records dating back to 1994 and earlier, although one state, Wisconsin, has no cases listed during the years 1994-1996 either from not being reported or from not having any cases prosecuted. A total of 940 cases were collected. We have compiled a table of the case listings citing which year and state the case was collected from (see page 68).

We can see from the table that some states go along at a steady pace of cases while other states seem to have spikes representing a high number of cases in some years. In the case of Colorado, many of the cases during the spike of 1997 appear to be the failing of surveyors to file corner record forms, an apparent change in surveying law/regulations in that state. There is no ready explanation as to why some states have significantly higher numbers of cases listed than other states. Further study may suggest some answers. There is also a question of exactly what year some cases were prosecuted. While we have a date of publication of the action, it is not always clear from the written record what year the case was actually decided.

Among the cases, there is no uniformity in reporting the actions from state to state. The author took some liberty in interpreting, where necessary, to categorize disciplinary actions. Some states, including Alaska and Washington, list all complaints but only list the names of those found guilty. Most other states list only the complaints of those found guilty. Some states do not list any names. Regardless, this study does not refer to individual surveyors by name but is intended to look at the overall picture of offenses. Of the 940 cases examined, several have multiple charges resulting in a total of 1057 offenses listed. A few of these were dismissed, but our study has not excluded them at this point. We will probably do so as we refine the study. A categorization of these offenses is listed (see page 8).

Types of Violations
The most common problem seems to be the failure of surveyors to perform a standard survey or prepare a standard survey plat, with 335 cases listed. Most of these cases are reported in generic fashion making it difficult to find what specifically the infraction was. Other states list more detail, such as a surveyor not showing an apparent encroachment on a plat or not having a north arrow on the plat. A quick review of the penalties in these cases seems to show that most of these cases were resolved by the surveyor filing the problem and receiving a reprimand or paying a modest fine. In a few cases, licenses were suspended or revoked, apparently because the surveyor in question was on some type of probation from earlier offenses.

The second most frequent offense was unlicensed surveying. There were 14 4 cases including a few cases where other professionals were doing the unlicensed surveying. One case, dropped for lack of evidence, accused a judge of illegally surveying. The numb er of unlicensed surveying cases does not include the 19 surveyors who were practicing on an expired, suspended or revoked license.

The third most frequent offense was the failure to file records, either survey plats or corner record forms. The corner record form filing requirement is most frequent in western states as is the failure to file these forms. In all, 118 cases were reported.

Failure to cooperate with the state b oard during an investigation was the next most frequent offense with 77 cases reported. This was the offense that appears to be the most penalized, resulting in numerous license suspensions and revocations. The fines at this level also appear to be higher than for most other offenses.

Fifty-two surveyors were cited for failure to perform adequate research. There is little if no distinction in the reporting of these cases to show if the deficiency was in obtaining sufficient documents or in looking for a "lost" monument.

Placing poor or no survey monuments was tied for 6th place along with professional misconduct with 42 cases of each cited. There was no specific comment on what the professional misconduct was in many cases. However, two cases specifically listed making disparaging comments about another surveyor’s work as the reason for the misconduct charge.

Inadequate supervision of survey personnel was given as the reason for action in 37 instances. A couple of these cases were cross-listed with surveying without a license or improper use of a surveyor’s seal.

Failure to complete or even start the survey was given as the reason for disciplinary action in 26 instances. Some citations include the fact that not only did the surveyor not perform the work, but he or she did not refund any monies paid by the client.

Improper use of a surveyor’s seal was cited in 21 instances. These ranged from simple plat stamping to stealing (or "borrowing") another surveyor’s seal. In at least one instance a surveyor was cited for not taking sufficient care of his seal in allowing another to misuse it.

False or misleading advertising was cited in 21 cases. In many of these cases, false advertising was charged along with surveying without a license wherein the accused had either business cards or yellow page listings advertising his or her services.

Lying to someone was listed as a violation in 20 of the cited cases. These instances ranged from lying to a client to lying to the board during an investigation to lying to the board on a license application.

A violation in another state in which the surveyor was licensed was cited 19 times. In almost all (if not all) cases, the offending surveyor received a reprimand. Not all of the names listed in these complaints could be cross-checked at this time, but future studies will endeavor to do so.

Eighteen actions were because the firm permit required by some states was expired or had not been properly filed. These states apparently require a separate listing of each surveying firm as well as the name of the responsible party for that firm. This action appears to also be regional, appearing most often in the eastern part of the country.

Aiding and abetting illegal surveying or other illegal activities was cited in 17 of the cases searched while 15 instances of not meeting continuing professional education requirements was noted. Seven instances of breach of contract were cited along with five instances of failure to pay child support. Four instances of conflict of interest were specifically charged. Three surveyors were charged with using another s
urveyor’s (unrecorded) work without his or her permission. Finally, two surveyors, on opposite coasts, were charged with property damage regarding trespass onto a neighbor’s property.

The cases are interesting and provide some insight into where we might need to focus some of our education efforts. We hope to have a more in depth study coming out in the next year, possibly with a few more cases as we continually check state board websites for updated information. From these studies, we hope to develop individual case studies that will help surveyors and future surveyors better serve their clients and satisfy their professional obligations. We would like to give a special thanks to the Land Surveyor Reference Page ( for making it easier to find the state board listings on one site.

Steve Frank is Department Head of Surveying Engineering at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.

Note: This article appeared in the March 2005 issue of Benchmarks, published by the New Mexico Professional Surveyors. Reprinted with permission by the author.

A 113Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with charts—is available by clicking HERE