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Government Threatens Retired Engineer With a Crime for Doing Math

Duration: 02:56

Institute for Justice

Published on 10 June 2021

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Wayne Nutt is an engineer. He graduated with a degree in engineering from the University of Iowa in 1967, and he promptly went to work as an engineer. He spent most of his time working in North Carolina, mostly for DuPont, using his expertise to do things like designing piping systems and helping with international technology licensing. Since his retirement in 2013, Wayne has not done any engineering—he hasn’t designed or built things—but he is still an engineer at heart, and so he talks about engineering a lot: When he spots math errors in public documents, he speaks up. When he thinks people are mischaracterizing engineering reports, he speaks out. And when he can answer a question that he thinks is important, he answers it.


And that is what has gotten him into trouble. Wayne never needed a license to work as an engineer. Because he worked for big manufacturers for his whole career, everything Wayne did (like everything most engineers do) fell under North Carolina’s “industrial exemption” and did not require a license. But according to the North Carolina Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors, talking about the sort of work Wayne did does require a license.

Wayne’s trouble started when he volunteered to testify as an expert witness in a case his son, an attorney, was litigating. The case involved a piping system in a housing development that allegedly caused flooding in nearby areas, and Wayne, who had designed plenty of pipes in his day, volunteered to testify about the volume of fluid that pipe could be expected to carry. Wayne still had a copy of the leading sourcebook on his bookshelf, and the analysis itself seemed pretty easy—at least for Wayne.

But it was also—according to the Board—illegal. After Wayne’s deposition in the case, where he truthfully testified that he was not (and never had been) a licensed engineer, someone complained to the Board that he was practicing engineering without a license, which is a criminal misdemeanor.

It might seem impossible to “practice” engineering by sitting in a conference room answering questions, but, shockingly, the Board seems to think Wayne crossed a line. The Board’s position is that offering any testimony that requires “engineering knowledge” is illegal without a license—even if someone truthfully discloses their credentials, and even if a judge wants to hear the testimony.

But that is wrong. In this country, we rely on people to decide who they want to listen to. We do not rely on government to decide who gets to speak. The Board’s position gets that important principle backwards. That is why Wayne has joined forces with the Institute for Justice to file a major First Amendment lawsuit against the Board, designed to vindicate the basic principle that the First Amendment protects our right to hear useful speech on difficult topics and that the Board cannot silence Wayne simply because his opinions are based on his knowledge of engineering.

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