Retired Wilmington engineer files federal lawsuit against state board, claims First Amendment violations

Updated: Jun. 10, 2021 at 12:43 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A retired Wilmington engineer is suing the North Carolina Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors for what he says were violations of his First Amendment rights — and he’s getting some help from the same law firm that is currently fighting against the City of Wilmington’s short-term rental laws.

On Thursday morning, the Institute for Justice along with Wayne Nutt, the retired engineer, spoke at the New Hanover County Courthouse to announce the lawsuit.

“Wayne graduated with a degree in engineering and worked most of his career in North Carolina without ever needing a license to actually work as an engineer. But now, the North Carolina Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors is telling Wayne that speaking publicly about engineering without a state license could lead to criminal charges,” according to a press release from the institute.

Nutt is retired but that does not change the fact that he still worked as an engineer in the state for decades without a license, and without issues.

“Wayne’s troubles began when he agreed to help his son, Kyle, a North Carolina attorney, with a case about a piping system that allegedly flooded a few local homes. In his deposition, Wayne testified truthfully that he was not (and never had been) a licensed engineer. In fact, like the majority of engineers nationwide, Wayne was not required to get a license since he worked for a company under the state’s “industrial exception,’” according to the Institute of Justice.

After that, Nutt was sent a letter by the state board saying they were investigating him for practicing engineering without a license. The case Nutt was working on was one involving Bill Clark Homes and was filed in New Hanover County. Nutt said he was not paid or ‘hired’ to help out with the case, he simply wanted to. But the opposing counsel objected to him offering his opinion and then went to the state board who sent him two letters threatening him with legal action.

Nutt says he does understand the need for licensing but the way the state board currently operates, it basically says that if anyone wants to criticize something that was conducted by a licensed engineer, you have to be a licensed engineer to do so. That’s something Nutt says needs to change.

“I would like to be able to speak about engineering issues, but I think the general public needs to be able to speak about issues that they see. There’s a lot of expertise out there that resides with people that are not engineers,” he said.

The case was filed in federal court Thursday, and it’s not money Institute of Justice or Nutt is seeking, instead, it’s a change to the way the state operates.

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