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AGO 1990 No. 9 - September 21, 1990
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Ken Eikenberry | 1981-1992 | Attorney General of Washington

LICENSES ‑- BOARD OF REGISTRATION FOR ARCHITECTS ‑- ARCHITECT ‑- ENGINEERS ‑- BUILDINGS ‑- CITIES AND TOWNS ‑- COUNTIES

1.   A registered architect or professional engineer must sign and stamp or seal each individual page containing a building construction drawing, or revision thereto, prepared or reviewed by him or her and submitted or permitted to be submitted in support of an application for a building permit, unless the activities are exempt from the requirement that drawings be signed and stamped or sealed by reason of RCW 18.08.410 or 18.43.130(1)-(7), (9).

2.   In the absence of one of the exemptions in RCW 18.08.410, a person who is not a registered professional architect or professional engineer violates RCW 18.08.310 by preparing a design or construction drawing for a building and submitting that design, or permitting that design or drawing to be submitted, in support of a building application.

3.   Under RCW 18.08.460(1) a local building official may accept a request for a building permit and issue the permit based on a design or construction drawing that does not bear the signature and stamp or seal of a registered architect or registered professional engineer, even if the activities are subject to the requirement that drawings be signed and stamped or sealed.

                                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - -
                                                              September 21, 1990

Mary Faulk, Director
Department of Licensing
Highways-Licenses Building
Olympia, Washington 98504

                                                                                                                   Cite as:  AGO 1990 No. 9

Dear Ms. Faulk:

            By letter previously acknowledged, you requested our opinion on the following five questions:

1.         Must a registered architect or a registered professional engineer sign and stamp or seal each individual page containing a building construction drawing, or revision thereto, prepared or reviewed by him or her and submitted,  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] or permitted to be submitted, by him or her in support of an application for a building permit?

2.         If the answer to question 1 is no, in whole or in part, under what circumstances may a registered architect or registered professional engineer submit, or permit to be submitted, a plan or drawing in support of an application for a building permit without his or her signature and stamp or seal without violating:  (a) RCW 18.08.370(2), RCW 18.08.420(7), or WAC 308-12-081 (architects); or (b) RCW 18.43.070, RCW 18.43.130(8)(h) (engineers)?

3.         In the absence of one of the exemptions found in RCW 18.08.410, does a person not a registered architect or a registered professional engineer violate RCW 18.08.310 by preparing a design or construction drawing for a building and submitting that design or drawing, or permitting that design or drawing to be submitted, in support of an application for a building permit?

4.         In the absence of one of the exemptions found in RCW 18.08.410, does a person not a registered architect or a registered professional engineer violate RCW 18.08.310 by preparing a revision to a design or construction drawing previously filed in support of an application for a building permit and filing that revision, or permitting that revision to be filed, with local building officials?

5.         Under RCW 18.08.460(1) must a local building official refuse to accept with a request for a building permit, or refuse to issue a building permit based upon, a design or construction drawing not bearing the signature and stamp or seal of a registered architect or a registered professional engineer, in the absence of the application to the design or drawing of one of the subsections of RCW 18.08.410?

                                                                    Brief Answer

1.         A registered architect or professional engineer must sign and stamp or seal each individual page containing a building construction drawing, or revision thereto, prepared or reviewed by him or her and submitted or permitted to be submitted in support of an application for a building permit, unless the activities are exempt from the requirement that drawings be signed and stamped or sealed by reason of RCW 18.08.410 or 18.43.130(1)-(7), (9).

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

2.         The only circumstances under which a registered architect or professional engineer may submit, or permit to be submitted, a plan or drawing in support of an application for a building permit without signing and stamping or sealing the drawing is when the activity is specifically exempt from the requirement that drawings be signed and stamped or sealed by reason of RCW 18.08.410 or 18.43.130(1)-(7), (9).

3.         In the absence of one of the exemptions in RCW 18.08.410, a person who is not a registered professional architect or professional engineer violates RCW 18.08.310 by preparing a design or construction drawing for a building and submitting that design, or permitting that design or drawing to be submitted, in support of a building application.

4.         In the absence of one of the exemptions in RCW 18.08.410, a person who is not a registered architect of professional engineer does violate RCW 18.08.310 by preparing a revision to a design or construction drawing previously filed in support of an application for a building permit and filing the revision or permitting that revision to be filed with local building officials.

5.         Under RCW 18.08.460(1) a local building official may accept a request for a building permit and issue the permit based on a design or construction drawing that does not bear the signature and stamp or seal of a registered architect or registered professional engineer, even if the activities are subject to the requirement that drawings be signed and stamped or sealed.

            Question 1

            Your first question requires us to discuss statutes that involve both registered architects and registered professional engineers.  Although we reach the same conclusion for both professions, we will discuss them separately.

            A.  Architects

            The signing and sealing or stamping of documents by registered architects is statutorily governed by RCW 18.08.370(2) and [18.08].420(7).  With respect to individual architects, RCW 18.08.370(2) states, in relevant part:

                        (2) Each registrant shall obtain a seal of the design authorized by the board bearing the architect's name, registration number, the legend "Registered  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] Architect," and the name of this state.  Drawings prepared by the registrant shall be sealed and signed by the registrant when filed with public authorities.  It is unlawful to seal and sign a document after a registrant's certificate of registration or authorization has expired, been revoked, or is suspended.

(Emphasis supplied.)

            With respect to architects who have organized as a corporation or a joint stock association, RCW 18.08.420(7) states, in relevant part:

                        (7)All plans, specifications, designs, and reports when issued in connection with work performed by a corporation under its certificate of authorization shall be prepared by or under the direction of the designated architects andshall be signed by and stamped with the official seal of the designated architects in the corporation authorized under this chapter.

(Emphasis supplied.)

            Additionally, we note that the State Board of Registration for Architects has adopted the following rule governing the signing and sealing or stamping of drawings:

                        Every architect licensed in the state of Washington shall have a seal of design authorized by the board, bearing the registrant's name, license number and the legend "Registered architect, state of Washington."  The seal with the registrant's countersignature shall appear on every drawing filed with public authorities.  A facsimile of the seal appears herewith.  (Facsimile of seal omitted.)
                        No architect's stamp or countersignature shall be affixed to any drawings not prepared by the architect or his or her regularly employed subordinates, or reviewed by the architect.  An architect who signs or seals drawings or specifications that he or she has reviewed is responsible to the same extent as if prepared by that architect.

(WAC 308-12-081) (Emphasis supplied.)
             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            These statutes require that an architect sign and seal or stamp each individual page containing a building construction drawing prepared or reviewed by the architect and submitted or permitted by the architect to be submitted in support of an application for a building permit.

            RCW 18.08.370(2) expressly requires that an architect sign and seal drawings which the architect has prepared "when filed with public authorities."  Building permits are issued by cities or counties.  RCW 19.27.085(3).  Therefore, drawings submitted in support of a building permit have clearly been "filed with public authorities."  Such drawings must be signed and sealed or stamped by an individual architect when submitted in support of a building permit.

            With respect to architects practicing as a corporation or joint stock association, RCW 18.08.420(7) requires that all "plans, specifications, designs, and reports" must be signed and stamped or sealed when issued in connection with work performed by the corporation.  RCW 18.08.420(7) does not define the meaning of "plans," "specifications," "designs," or "reports."  Thus it is necessary to determine whether these terms encompass drawings.

            Dictionary definitions may be resorted to in the absence of a statutory definition.  Seattle Times Co. v. Benton County, 99 Wn.2d 251, 256, 661 P.2d 964 (1983).  "Plan" is defined in relevant part as follows:

                        1:  a drawing or diagram drawn on a plane:  as a:  a top view of a machine b:  a representation of a horizontal section of a building ‑- see GROUND PLAN

Webster's Third New International Dictionary1729 (1981).

                        "Design" is defined in relevant part as follows:

                       . . . a scheme for the construction, finish, and ornamentation of a building as embodied in the plans, elevations, and other architectural drawings pertaining to it. . .

(Emphasis supplied.)

Webster's Third New International Dictionary611 (1981).  Thus, drawings are encompassed within the terms "plans" and "designs" and must, therefore be signed and sealed or stamped when issued in connection with a project of the corporation.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]

            RCW 18.08.370(2) provides that a registered architect shall sign and stamp or seal drawings he or she prepares.  The statute does not specifically address the situation when a registered architect reviews drawings prepared by others.  However, it is clear from other provisions of the chapter that the registered architect must sign and stamp or seal drawings that he or she reviews.  RCW 18.08.410 exempts from the signing and stamping requirement:

                        (9) Any person from designing buildings or doing other design work for structures . . . if the plans, which may include such design work,are stamped by a registered engineer or architect.

(Emphasis supplied.)

            RCW 18.08.410(9) imposes an additional stamping requirement when drawings are prepared by others.  Additionally, the State Board of Registration for Architects has adopted WAC 308-12-081, which provides that no architect shall sign and seal any drawings "not prepared by the architect or his or her regularly employed subordinates,or reviewed by the architect."  (Emphasis supplied.)  Thus, since drawings filed with public authorities must be signed and stamped or sealed by an architect, a reviewing architect must sign and stamp or seal drawings reviewed, but not prepared, by him or her.

            The next issue which must be examined is whether each individual page of drawings submitted in support of a building permit must be signed and sealed or whether a group of drawings may be signed and sealed as a unit rather than individually.

            The statutes governing professional architects do not expressly state whether registered architects must sign and stamp or seal each individual page of drawings submitted in support of a building permit or whether drawings may be signed and stamped or sealed as a unit.  However, the general policy statement in RCW 18.08.235 clearly indicates that the purpose of licensing professional architects is "to safeguard life, health, and property, and to promote the public welfare."  Likewise, the requirements that plans, specifications, designs and reports be signed and stamped or sealed is evidently intended to achieve the same purpose by assuring that building construction documents have been prepared by or under the direct supervision or responsible charge of a registered architect.  We are of the opinion that this legislative purpose is best achieved by the signing and stamping or sealing by a registered architect of each individual page containing a drawing.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 7]]

            We note that the Board of Registration for Architects has adopted a construction similar to that of the statutes.  The Board has adopted WAC 308-12-081 which requires "every drawing filed with public authorities" be signed and sealed.  (Emphasis supplied.)  As the agency charged with administering chapter 18.08 RCW, the board's interpretation of the statutes governing signing and sealing of drawings is entitled to great weight.  Lumpkin v. Dep't of Social & Health Servs., 20 Wn. App. 406, 410, 581 P.2d 1060 (1978).  Accordingly, we conclude that an architect must sign and seal each page containing a building construction drawing.

            There is a major exception to the general requirement that each architectural drawing submitted in support of a building permit be signed and stamped or sealed by a registered architect.  RCW 18.08.410 completely exempts certain activities from the requirements of chapter 18.08 RCW.  If the drawings submitted in support of a building permit fall within one or more of the exempted activities, there is no requirement that they be signed and stamped or sealed by a registered architect.

            B.  Engineers

            The signing and sealing or stamping of drawings by registered professional engineers is governed by RCW 18.43.070 and [18.43].130(8)(h).  With respect to individual engineers, RCW 18.43.070 provides, in relevant part:

                        Each registrant hereunder shall upon registration obtain a seal of the design authorized by the board, bearing the registrant's name and the legend "registered professional engineer" or "registered land surveyor."  Plans, specifications, platsand reports prepared by the registrant shall be signed, dated, and stamped with said seal or facsimile thereof.  Such signature and stamping shall constitute a certification by the registrant that the same was prepared by or under his direct supervision and that to his knowledge and belief the same was prepared in accordance with the requirements of the statute.  It shall be unlawful for anyone to stamp or seal any document with said seal or facsimile thereof after the certificate of registrant named thereon has expired or been revoked, unless said certificate shall have been renewed or reissued.

(Emphasis added.)  With respect to engineers who have organized as a corporation or joint stock association, RCW 18.43.130(8)(h) states:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 8]]

                        (h)All plans, specifications, designs, and reports when issued in connection with work performed by a corporation under its certificate of authorization shall be prepared by or under the responsible charge of and shall be signed by andshall be stamped with the official seal of a person holding a certificate of registration under this chapter.(Emphasis added.)

            Additionally, we note that the State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors has adopted the following rule:

                        Engineers or land surveyors shall not affix their signature and seal to any engineering or land surveyingplan or document dealing with subject matter outside their field of competence nor to any plan or document not prepared under their direct supervision.

                        "Under direct supervision" shall be construed to mean that the registrant providing such supervision shall have made the decisions on technical matters of policy and design.  Furthermore, the registrant shall have exercised his professional judgment in all engineering and land surveying matters that are embodied in the plans, design, specifications or other documents involved in the work.

(WAC 196-24-095) (Emphasis added.)

            RCW 18.43.070 expressly requires that an engineer practicing as an individual sign and seal or stamp "(p)lans, specifications, plats and reports" prepared by the engineer or under the engineer's direct supervision.  With respect to engineers practicing as a corporation or a joint stock association, RCW 18.43.130(8)(h) requires that all "plans, specifications, designs, and reports" issued in connection with work performed by a corporation shall be signed and stamped or sealed by the engineer who prepared them or under whose "responsible charge" they were prepared.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 9]]

            RCW 18.43.130(8)(h) does not define the terms "plans" and "designs".  In this respect it is similar to RCW 18.08.420(7) which deals with architects practicing in the corporate form.  Our analysis of that section is equally applicable here.  See supra, p. 5.  The dictionary definitions of "plan" and "design" encompass the term drawing.  Thus, plans must be signed and stamped or sealed when issued in connection with the project of the corporation.

            RCW 18.43.070 deals specifically with the issue of whether a professional engineer must sign and stamp plans he or she has reviewed.  Under the statute the signing and stamping constitutes "a certification by the [engineer] that the [plan] was prepared under his direct supervision and that to his knowledge and belief the [plan] was prepared in accordance with the requirements of the statute."  This requirement of RCW 18.43.070 applies to plans the engineer has prepared and also to plans he or she has reviewed to ensure compliance with the statute.

            With regard to the question of whether an engineer must sign and stamp or seal each individual page of a plan, our analysis in the context of architects also applies to engineers.  See supra, p. 6.  As with architects, the purpose of the licensing of professional engineers is "to safeguard life, health, and property, and to promote the public welfare."  RCW 18.43.010.  We are of the opinion that this purpose can best be served by the signing and stamping by a professional engineer of each individual page containing an engineering drawing.

            As in the case of architects, there is a major statutory exception to the general requirement that drawings be signed and stamped or sealed by a professional engineer.  RCW 18.43.130 exempts various activities from the requirements of chapter 18.43 RCW.  If the drawing submitted in support of a building falls within any of the exceptions contained in RCW 18.43.130(1)-(7), (9)1/ it falls outside the scope of chapter 18.43 RCW and need not be signed and stamped or sealed by a professional engineer.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 10]]

            Question 2

            In our answer to Question 1 we pointed out that there are statutory exemptions to the requirements that drawings be signed and stamped or sealed by a registered architect or professional engineer.  See supra, p. 7, 9.  This brings us to your second question.

                        If the answer to question 1 is "no" in whole or in part, under what circumstances may a registered architect or registered professional engineer submit, or permit to be submitted, a plan or drawing in support of an application for a building permit without his or her signature and stamp or seal without violating:  (a) RCW 18.08.370(2), RCW 18.08.420(7), or WAC 308-12-081 (architects); or (b) RCW 18.43.070, RCW 18.43.130(8)(h) (engineers)?

            The statutory exemptions available in the statutes governing architects are contained in RCW 18.08.410.  This statute provides that chapter 18.08 "shall not affect or prevent" certain listed activities.  The exemptions available in the statute governing professional engineers are set forth in RCW 18.43.130(1)-(7), (9).  This statute provides that chapter 18.43 "shall not be construed to prevent or affect" certain activities.

            Based on our review of the applicable statutes, these are the only exceptions to the requirements in both chapters that plans be signed and stamped or sealed by a registered architect or professional engineer.

            Question 3

                        In the absence of one of the exemptions found in RCW 18.08.410, does a person not a registered architect or a registered professional engineer violate RCW 18.08.310 by preparing a design or construction drawing for a building and submitting that design or drawing, or permitting that design or drawing to be submitted, in support of an application for a building permit?

            The answer to this question turns on whether an individual is practicing architecture.  In the absence of an exemption in RCW 18.08.410, an individual who is not a registered architect violates RCW 18.08.310 if he or she is practicing architecture.

            RCW 18.08.310 states, in relevant part:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 11]]

                        It is unlawful for any person to practice or offer to practice in this state, architecture, or to use in connection with his or her name or otherwise assume, use, or advertise any title or description including the word "architect," "architecture," "architectural," or language tending to imply that he or she is an architect, unless the person is registered or authorized to practice in the state of Washington under this chapter.  The provisions of this section shall not affect the use of the words "architect," "architecture," or "architectural" where a person does not practice or offer to practice architecture.

            In turn, "practice of architecture" is defined as follows by RCW 18.08.320(10):

                        (10) "Practice of architecture" means the rendering of services in connection with the art and science of building design for construction of any structure or grouping of structures and the use of space within and surrounding the structures or the design for construction of alterations or additions to the structures, including but not specifically limited to schematic design, design development, preparation of construction contract documents, and administration of the construction contract.

            The activities described in question 3 are "preparing a design or construction drawing for a building and submitting that design or drawing, or permitting that design or drawing to be submitted, in support of an application for a building permit."

            Therefore, we are of the opinion that these activities described in Question 3 constitute the practice of architecture.  Accordingly, in the absence of one of the exemptions found in RCW 18.08.410, such activities by a person not a registered architect or professional engineer would violate RCW 18.08.310.

            You have also asked in this question about the activities of registered professional engineers who are not registered architects.  The activities of registered professional engineers are expressly governed by one of the exemptions contained in RCW 18.08.410.  RCW 18.08.410(1) exempts from chapter 18.08 RCW the "practice of . . . engineering . . . by persons not registered as architects."  Thus, a registered professional engineer does not violate RCW 18.08.310 when he or she is practicing engineering.            

[[Orig. Op. Page 12]]

            Question 4

                        In the absence of one of the exemptions found in RCW 18.08.410, does a person not a registered architect or a registered professional engineer violate RCW 18.08.310 by preparing a revision to a design or construction drawing previously filed in support of an application for a building permit and filing that revision, or permitting that revision to be filed, with local building officials?

            Our analysis in response to Question 3 applies equally to this question.  The issue is whether preparing a revision to a design or construction drawing previously filed in support of an application for a building permit and filing that revision, or permitting that revision to be filed constitutes the practice of architecture as defined in RCW 18.08.320(10).  We conclude that it does.  Accordingly, in absence of one of the exemptions listed in RCW 18.08.410, these actions by an unregistered person constitute a violation of RCW 18.08.310.

            Question 5

                        Under RCW 18.08.460(1) must a local building official refuse to accept with a request for a building permit, or refuse to issue a building permit based upon, a design or construction drawing not bearing the signature and stamp or seal of a registered architect or a registered professional engineer, in the absence of the application to the design or drawing of one of the subsections of RCW 18.08.410?

            RCW 18.08.460(1) does not require a local building official to refuse to accept an application for a building permit or to refuse to issue a permit.  RCW 18.08.460(1) states:

                        Any person who violates any provision of this chapter or any rule promulgated under it is guilty of a misdemeanor and may also be subject to a civil penalty in an amount not to exceed one thousand dollars for each offense.

                        (1) It shall be the duty of all officers in the state or any political subdivision thereof to enforce this chapter.  Any public officer may initiate an action before the board to enforce the provisions of this chapter.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 13]]

            RCW 18.08.460(1) leaves the specific means of enforcing chapter 18.08 RCW up to the officers of the "state or any political subdivision thereof."  It does not expressly authorize local building officials to refuse to accept building permit applications or refuse to issue building permits which are neither accompanied by properly signed and stamped or sealed drawings nor exempted from such requirements by RCW 18.08.410.

            RCW 18.08.460 expressly authorizes only the following actions by public officers against persons who have violated chapter 18.08 RCW:  (1) criminal prosecution; (2) civil action for violation of chapter 18.08 RCW in which the penalty is an amount not to exceed one thousand dollars; and (3) initiation of an action before the board to enforce the provisions of chapter 18.08 RCW.  The choice of which action, if any, to pursue would rest with the government entity to whom the offending drawings were submitted.

            Also, the purpose of RCW 18.08.460 is to penalize violations of chapter 18.08 RCW.  In many cases, the person or company submitting unsigned, unstamped architectural drawings in support of a building permit will not have made the drawings.  To refuse to accept an application for a building permit under such circumstances punishes the architects' client, not the architect.  Such a result could not have been the intent of the Legislature in adopting RCW 18.08.460(1).  Accordingly, we conclude that RCW 18.08.460(1) does not require local building officials to enforce chapter 18.08 RCW by refusing to accept permit applications or refusing to issue permits based upon design or construction drawings not signed and stamped or sealed by an architect or professional engineer.

            Although RCW 18.08.460(1) does not require a local building official to refuse to accept a request for a building permit or refuse to issue a building permit, a local government entity has the statutory authority to enact such a requirement if it chooses.  The requirements for a fully completed building permit application shall be defined by local ordinance.  RCW 19.27.095(2).  Thus, a city or county could, by local ordinance, provide that building permit applications be accompanied by architectural and engineering drawings which are signed and stamped or sealed in accordance with chapter 18.08 RCW and chapter 18.43 RCW and that non-complying applications will be rejected.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 14]]

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Sincerely,

WILLIAM B. COLLINS
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/RCW 18.43.130(8) governs the practice of engineering by joint stock associations and corporations.  RCW 18.43.130(8)(h) expressly requires that plans, specifications, designs and reports be signed and stamped or sealed by a professional engineer.

 

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