Martin v. Sizemore

CourtCourt of Appeals of Tennessee
Citation78 S.W.3d 249
PartiesWilliam C. MARTIN v. Douglas M. SIZEMORE, et al.
Decision Date22 August 2001
78 S.W.3d 249
William C. MARTIN v.
Douglas M. SIZEMORE, et al.
Court of Appeals of Tennessee, at Nashville.
August 22, 2001.
Published Pursant to Tenn. Ct. App. R. 11.

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Paul G. Summers, Attorney General and Reporter, and Sara L. Rosson, Deputy Attorney General, Nashville, TN, for appellants, Douglas M. Sizemore, Tennessee State Board of Architectural and Engineering Examiners, Theodore E. Wynne, William H. Beaty, Ronald V. Gobble, David O. Lose, Richard A. Piske, Jr., Gary L. Rowe, John W. Smith, Linda E. Smith, and Willard Vance Travis, Jr.

David N. Garst, Knoxville, TN, for appellee, William C. Martin.

OPINION

WILLIAM C. KOCH, JR., J., delivered THE OPINION OF THE COURT, IN WHICH henry F. TODD, P.J., M.S., and WILLIAM B. CAIN, J., joined.


This appeal involves a disciplinary proceeding against a licensed architect. Following a lengthy hearing, the Tennessee Board of Examiners for Architects and Engineers concluded that the architect had engaged in misconduct in the practice of architecture in connection with four projects and suspended his certificate of registration for three years. The architect appealed the Board's decision to the Chancery Court for Davidson County. The trial court reversed the Board's decision after determining that the decision was not supported by substantial and material evidence. On this appeal, the Board asserts that its suspension of the architect's certificate of registration has adequate evidentiary support. The architect renews his argument that the Board's proceedings violated his procedural due process rights because the attorney who prosecuted the State's case against him also served as the Board's lawyer in other matters. Except for a portion of the charges involving one project, we concur with the trial court's conclusion that the Board's decision lacked evidentiary support because the State failed to present expert testimony regarding the applicable standard of care. We have also determined that the architect has not carried his burden of demonstrating that the Board was actually biased against him because the lawyer who prosecuted the State's case also provided other, unrelated legal services to the Board. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's judgment as modified herein and remand the case to the Board for further proceedings.

I.

William C. Martin received his certificate to practice architecture in Tennessee in 1969. He has been working as a sole practitioner in the Knoxville area ever since. In May 1992, the State filed a notice of charges with the Tennessee Board of Examiners for Architects and Engineers ("Board"), alleging that Mr. Martin had engaged in unprofessional conduct on four projects between late 1986 and early 1989. The State asserted that Mr. Martin's certificate should be suspended or revoked because (1) he was not competent to prepare the plans for a three-story motel and commercial building in Pigeon Forge and that the "deficiencies" in his structural plans "contributed" to the collapse of the structure in April 1987, (2) he was not competent to prepare the structural and electrical drawings for a sevenstory

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motel project in Gatlinburg, (3) he permitted a client to construct and occupy an old grocery store converted into an automotive body shop when he knew that the Knox County Fire Prevention Bureau had issued a stop-work order on the project, and (4) he failed to submit acceptable electrical design drawings for a proposed motel in Townsend to the State Fire Marshal in a timely manner and that he permitted his client to substantially complete the project even though the plans contained numerous deficiencies.

In July 1993, Mr. Martin responded to the notice of charges by asserting that he had complied with the applicable standards of professional conduct for each of these projects. He also interposed numerous defenses to the notice of charges, including assertions that the rules of professional conduct were vague, that the State was engaging in selective enforcement, and that the use of lawyers furnished by the Department of Commerce and Insurance ("Department") to prosecute him amounted to a constitutionally impermissible combination of the prosecutorial and adjudicatory functions. Less than one month later, Mr. Martin stepped up his attack on the fairness of the proceedings by moving to disqualify the Department's lawyers from prosecuting the State's case against him. In January 1994, an administrative law judge, assigned to preside over the hearing by the Secretary of State, denied Mr. Martin's motion to disqualify the Department's lawyers because they were not assisting or advising the Board with regard to the case against Mr. Martin.

Mr. Martin was not deterred by the administrative law judge's denial of his motion to disqualify the Department's lawyers. On the eve of the administrative hearing, he filed a motion to disqualify all nine members of the Board for bias, prejudice, and interest in the outcome of the proceedings. The basis for this motion was that the board members had an attorney-client relationship with the Department's lawyer who would be prosecuting the case against him. After the administrative hearings commenced on February 17, 1994, one of Mr. Martin's attorneys was permitted to argue to the Board that their relationship with the Department's lawyer prosecuting the case required them to disqualify themselves. Thereafter, each board member present declined to recuse himself or herself from the proceeding.

Following five days of hearings, the Board entered a final order on November 18, 1994. The Board found: (1) that Mr. Martin was "not competent to have prepared or supervised the preparation of the structural, mechanical, plumbing, or electrical engineering drawings" for the motel project in Pigeon Forge that collapsed, (2) that Mr. Martin was "not competent to have prepared or supervised the preparation of the preliminary structural or electrical design drawings" for the seven-story motel in Gatlinburg, (3) that Mr. Martin did not act properly when he failed to withdraw from the converted grocery store project in Knoxville when the owner constructed and occupied the improvements contrary to a stop-work order issued by the Knox County Fire Prevention Bureau, and (4) that Mr. Martin had failed to communicate adequately with the State Fire Marshal in connection with the completion and approval of the plans for the Townsend motel project and had practiced outside the area of his competence by preparing the project's electrical design drawings. Accordingly, the Board determined that Mr. Martin had violated the rules of professional conduct, that his license should be suspended for three years, and that he should be placed on probation for one year following the suspension. The Board later denied Mr. Martin's request for a stay of its order.

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In January 1995, Mr. Martin filed a petition for judicial review in the Chancery Court for Davidson County, naming as defendants the Commissioner of Commerce and Insurance,1 the Board, and the individual members of the Board. His attack on the Board's decision was twofold. First, he argued that the Board's proceedings violated U.S. Const. amend. XIV, Tenn. Const. art. I, § 8, and Tenn.Code Ann. § 4-5-303 (1998) because of the relationship between the board members and the Department's lawyer who prosecuted the State's case. Second, he asserted that the Board's conclusion that he had violated the rules of professional conduct with regard to the four projects was not supported by substantial and material evidence. The trial court rejected Mr. Martin's contention that the relationship between the Board and the Department's lawyer who prosecuted Mr. Martin caused the administrative proceedings to be fundamentally unfair. However, the trial court also determined that the Board's conclusion that Mr. Martin's conduct on the four cited projects violated the applicable standard of care was not supported by substantial and material evidence. Accordingly, it reversed the three-year suspension of Mr. Martin's certificate, as well as the decision to place Mr. Martin on probation for one year.

II.
THE CHALLENGE TO THE BOARD'S IMPARTIALITY

We will first address Mr. Martin's assertion that these proceedings were so fundamentally unfair that they denied him due process of law. Specifically, Mr. Martin asserts that the fact that the lawyer prosecuting the charges against him also serves as the Board's legal advisor in other unrelated matters undermined the Board's impartiality or, at least, created an appearance of unfairness. The contention is based solely on the nature of the relationship between the Board and the prosecuting lawyer. Mr. Martin neither alleged nor proved any specific conduct on the part of either the Board or the lawyer that would impugn the fairness of the proceeding. In the absence of proof of actual bias on the part of any Board member, we have determined that this proceeding conformed to the requirements of due process and complied with Tenn.Code Ann. § 4-5-303.

A.

The State commenced this disciplinary proceeding against Mr. Martin in May 1992. Thereafter, the Board requested the Secretary of State to provide an administrative law judge to assist with the contested case hearing and to address all preliminary procedural matters. The Secretary of State acceded to the Board's request and appointed one of his employees to act as the administrative law judge in this proceeding.

Over one year later, Mr. Martin moved to disqualify Thaddeus E. Watkins, III, the lawyer prosecuting the charges against him, from participating further in the case. He argued that Mr....

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