Vantage Point: The Rest of the Story (Times Two)

Because of the lapse of several months between when articles are written and when they are published, occasionally some stories have postscripts that can’t be included in the original piece. We have two stories this month to update, one about ambiguous municipal boundaries and one about what we call ourselves.

The first update is to “A Tale of Two Townships” (July 2017), in which Adams and Richland Townships argued over their shared boundary because neither wanted to be responsible for the site of an automobile accident. The court-appointed Boundary Line Commissioners were unimpressed by either side’s evidence or arguments as to the line’s location, and opted to go with a presumably acquiesced tax map depiction. That did not satisfy either the Common Pleas Court (appellate court in Pennsylvania) or Adams Township, and the case had been remanded to the trial court for re-evaluation of evidence of the original line. Winding its way back up through the court system with yet another appeal, the final outcome was not yet publicly available when I wrote the original article in May 2017, as public release often takes many months to those outside of the immediately interested parties. But now we have word from Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court (154 A.3d 250):

“… in such a narrow circumstance, the commissioners may rely upon the equitable doctrine of acquiescence in making their determination, and need not search indefinitely for evidence of the original boundary.”

Note the express qualification of “in such a narrow circumstance,” which is not free rein to give up record research just because it isn’t easy. Surveyors are still called upon to be rigorous in both our record research and our field reconnaissance. Further, it is not up to surveyors to determine if acquiescence has occurred to establish a new location of a line for which research of the original location proves unsatisfactory. Regarding the limits of our research, the Court further underscored the duties of the appointed Commissioners with the following, which may inform our own professional actions:

“Although ascertainment of the true location of the boundary is the primary means by which such disputes may be resolved, a board of commissioners’ search for evidence of that boundary need not extend in perpetuity.”

The final statement of this court was that after examining competent evidence (and as a last resort), the trial court was not incorrect to accept the doctrine of acquiescence. No further appeals will be heard.

The second update is to the article called “What’s in a Name?” (September 2017), addressing the saga of Mats Jarlstrom of Oregon. The one line summary here is that Jarlstrom is an engineer in Sweden but not licensed in the US as such, and that Oregon’s licensure board took issue with his self-identification as an engineer. The matter raised a number of related questions about our ability to refer to ourselves as practitioners of surveying when we are physically located outside of the jurisdictions that have issued our licenses. At the time of writing the article, Mr. Jarlstrom had paid the $500 fine assessed by the Oregon Board, but asked for reimbursement of his legal fees. Subsequently, the Board issued a statement that it would not pursue Jarlstrom any further when he is not acting in a commercial or professional manner, and returned the $500 fee to him.

In December 2017, Jarlstrom took it a step further and filed a complaint in the United States District Court against the members of the Oregon Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying (in their official capacities and not as private citizens). In his petition, he asks the Court to find that specific Oregon statutes and administrative codes or rules violate the First Amendment the United States Constitution.

The “free speech” clause of this portion of the Bill of Rights reads: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech…” While not mentioned in the petition to the court, Oregon’s Constitution has similar protections, appearing in Article 1 Section 8 as follows: “No law shall be passed restraining the free expression of opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print freely on any subject whatever; but every person shall be responsible for the abuse of this right.”

Specifically, Jarlstrom has asked the Court to name specific statutes and rules as unconstitutional “to the extent those laws limit the right of persons other than Oregon-licensed professional engineers to truthfully describe themselves using the word `engineer’ while petitioning the government.”

There may be need for another update after this particular addendum to this story. But for now, it appears we are free to refer to ourselves as “surveyors” even outside the jurisdictions that issued our licenses without fear of legal backlash–at least when we travel to Oregon.

About the Author

Wendy Lathrop, PS, CFM, CFS

Wendy Lathrop is licensed as a Professional Land Surveyor in NJ, PA, DE, and MD, and has been involved since 1974 in surveying projects ranging from construction to boundary to environmental land use disputes. She is a Professional Planner in NJ, and a Certified Floodplain Manager through ASFPM.