Simon v. State Examiners of Electricians

Decision Date31 May 1984
Citation18 Mass.App.Ct. 17,462 N.E.2d 1116
CourtAppeals Court of Massachusetts

John P. Graceffa, Asst. Atty. Gen., for the defendant.

Anne L. Berger, Woburn (Judith A. Kelley, Woburn, with her), for plaintiffs.

Peter J. Gagne, Boston, for the Electrical Contractors Ass'n of Greater Boston, amicus curiae, submitted a brief.


PERRETTA, Justice.

The plaintiffs, a group of individuals, corporations, and trade unions involved in the business of installing, maintaining, and servicing burglar and fire alarm systems within the Commonwealth, brought an action in the Superior Court as a direct judicial challenge (see G.L. c. 30A, and G.L. c. 231A) to Rule 2.2 of the Rules and Regulations of the Board of State Examiners of Electricians of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1974) (board). See now 237 Code Mass.Regs. 4.02(3) (1981). That rule requires that only licensed electricians "engag[e] in or work[ ] at the business of installing wires, conduits, apparatus, fixtures or other appliances for carrying or using electricity for light, heat, or power purposes, fire alarm and all signal work requiring the use of wire for transmission."

The plaintiffs contend: (1) that they are outside the scope of the licensing requirements set forth in G.L. c. 141, § 1, because their systems are not for "light, heat or power purposes" and such requirements cannot be enlarged by the board through use of its rulemaking authority; and (2) that because alarm systems convey information, installation of such systems is exempt from the board's regulation by reason of G.L. c. 141, § 7, a section providing that c. 141, § 1, is inapplicable to the "work of companies incorporated for the transmission of intelligence by electricity."

The trial judge concluded that § 1 was not applicable to the plaintiffs and that, even if it were, the plaintiffs would be exempt from its coverage by § 7. A judgment entered declaring that the regulation "is invalid in its application to each of the plaintiffs" and permanently enjoining the board from enforcing, civilly or criminally (see G.L. c. 141, § 5), the regulation against any of the plaintiffs.

We conclude that the regulation is valid, that it is consistent with the purpose of § 1, and that the plaintiffs are not within the scope of the exemption claimed under § 7. We do not, however, determine the applicability of the regulation to the individual plaintiffs because the record is inadequate for such purpose. I. Facts.

A stipulation of agreed facts was filed by the parties and incorporated by the trial judge in his findings of fact. The parties also presented three witnesses, but the trial judge made no additional findings based upon their testimony.

General Laws c. 141, § 1, as amended by St.1943, c. 308, provides, in pertinent part:

"No person, firm or corporation shall enter into, engage in, or work at the business of installing wires, conduits, apparatus, fixtures or other appliances for carrying or using electricity for light, heat or power purposes, unless such person, firm or corporation shall have received a license and a certificate therefor, issued by the state examiners of electricians and in accordance with the provisions hereinafter set forth."

Pursuant to its rule making authority under § 2 of the statute, 2 the board promulgated the disputed regulation, which substantially tracks the language of § 1, with the major exception of the emphasized additional phrase:

"All persons, firms and corporations entering into, engaging in or working at the business of installing wires, conduits, apparatus, fixtures or other appliances for carrying or using electricity for light, heat, or power purposes, fire alarm and all signal work requiring the use of wire for transmission, within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts shall be governed by the applicable provisions, now or hereafter in force, of all general and special laws; all rules and regulations made and promulgated pursuant to the provisions of any such law; and in respect to all matters not therein expressly provided shall be governed by the standards set forth in the 1981 Massachusetts Electrical Code, 527 CMR: 12.00 and as may be from time to time amended, for Electrical Wiring and Apparatus as Rules and Requirements for Electrical Wiring in Massachusetts as adopted by this Board on June 22, 1981."

With these provisions in mind, we turn to the facts set out in the parties' stipulation. "All modern burglar alarm systems and approximately fifty percent of all fire alarm systems are connected to a power supply by means of a plug-in transformer. The remaining systems are hard wired to a power supply but, when hard wiring is necessary, it is done by a licensed electrician" (emphasis supplied).

There are attached to the stipulation excerpts, including a diagram, from Hahn, Modern Electronic Security Systems (1976), which the stipulation states "fairly describe the essential elements and functions of a typical burglar alarm system." A second attachment to the stipulation is a hand drawn diagram (of unidentified origin) labelled "Typical Fire Alarm System," which the parties stipulate "fairly represents the essential elements and functions of a typical fire alarm system." 3 There are also, according to the undisputed testimony in the record, more sophisticated fire alarm systems which can perform various mechanical functions, such as automatically operating elevators or reversing ventilation systems to expel smoke from a building.

Collectively, the plaintiffs install all of the described systems. Their argument is that they do not fall within the licensing requirements of G.L. c. 141, § 1, because their alarm systems do not use electricity for purposes of the end products of light, heat, or power. Although the alarm systems, according to the parties' stipulation, draw upon electricity to supply power to the systems, the plaintiffs contend that they are outside the scope of G.L. c. 141, § 1, because: "Burglar, fire and smoke alarms do not have heat or light as a purpose.... Nor is power an end product, as the signals given out by alarm equipment are not power." They contend that to bring their activities within the control of the board is to enlarge the scope of § 1, which must be done by legislative, rather than rule making, authority.

The board argues that the statutory phrase "light, heat or power" is inclusive and general and does not refer to "end-products." It contends that the alarm systems utilize electricity for power purposes and that, therefore, the systems must be installed by licensed electricians. 4

II. The Statute.

The board's interpretation of c. 141, § 1, as giving it the authority to require licensed electricians to install burglar and fire alarms is entitled to "respect." White Dove, Inc. v. Director of the Div. of Marine Fisheries, 380 Mass. 471, 477, 403 N.E.2d 1169 (1980). "Although the usefulness of regulations should not be overrated, their importance is never greater than where, as here, an agency must interpret a legislative policy which is only broadly set out in the governing statute." School Comm. of Springfield v. Board of Educ., 362 Mass. 417, 442, 287 N.E.2d 438 (1972). See also Consolidated Cigar Corp. v. Department of Pub. Health., 372 Mass. 844, 850, 364 N.E.2d 1202 (1977); Massachusetts Organization of State Engineers & Scientists v. Labor Relations Commn., 389 Mass. 920, 924, 452 N.E.2d 1117 (1983).

Since the meaning of the term "power" is not immediately apparent, we must construe the phrase "light, heat or power purposes," in light of the history of the statute, which dates from St.1915, c. 296, and its relation to other statutes touching upon the same subject matter. See generally Commonwealth v. Welosky, 276 Mass. 398, 403, 177 N.E. 656 (1931); McCarthy v. Rogers, 295 Mass. 245, 249, 3 N.E.2d 787 (1936); Nichols v. Commissioner of Corps. & Taxn., 314 Mass. 285, 291, 50 N.E.2d 76 (1943). The obvious intent of the Legislature in enacting what is now c. 141, § 1, has been, since 1915, to require that electrical work be performed by licensed electricians. See Maria v. State Examiners of Electricians, 365 Mass. 551, 554, 313 N.E.2d 448 (1974).

We do not think it consistent with that intent to read "light, heat or power purposes" as words of limitation. Rather, we view them as a shorthand expression for the most common uses of electricity at the time of the statute's enactment. Interpretations of the words "light, heat or power" as used in 1915 support this conclusion. The term "power" was construed broadly in Commissioner of Corp. & Taxn. v. Springfield, 321 Mass. 31, 71 N.E.2d 593 (1947). In that case the court made clear, at least for purposes of construing a 1916 corporate franchise tax statute, that the distribution of electricity for purposes of power included furnishing electricity "for such purposes as operating a radio, a toaster, a refrigerator or some other household article." Id. at 37, 71 N.E.2d 593. 5 A 1913 legislative report issued pursuant to a resolution to revise the laws of the Commonwealth pertaining to the manufacture and transmission of gas and electricity again shows a broad use of the term "power" and that the words "light," "heat" and "power" were used interchangeably with the term "electricity." The report pointed out that some statutes referred to sale of gas and electricity for "light and heat," some for "light, heat or power," some spoke of sale of "electric light," others of "electricity." 1913 House Doc. No. 1925 at 13. After citing the "lack of uniformity" in the array of statutes, the report explained that "electric light and electric power" companies were not defined, that both classes of companies sold electricity, and stated, " 'Light,' 'heat', and 'power' " as used...

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