CONTRACTORS BOARD DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS
When the Contractors' State License Board seeks to discipline a contractor, they have two forms of proceedings that they usually use. These are the Citation and the Accusation. In addition to these, the Board also can write a warning letter which remains on the contractor's record, or it can seek a criminal conviction in cases that are really bad. Neither of these are discussed here. While the Accusation and Citation are very different, they share one common thing. Ignoring a Citation or Accusation may result in the loss of a contractor's license.
A Citation can be compared to a traffic ticket. If you do everything that the Citation instructs you to do, and you don't seek to contest it, you will retain your license and have no further problems with the Board based on that particular Citation. A Citation will state a factual allegation, and will allege a violation of the License Law based on those facts. The Citation can also request orders based on those violations. If the Citation is not contested then the order(s) become an Order of the Registrar of Contractors. The orders can be a civil penalty, which would be a fine payable to the Board, and/or a corrective order. The corrective order could be that the contractor must go back to his or her client's job and correct some work, or that order could be that he or she pay an amount of money to the client to correct what was allegedly done wrong.
Satisfaction of the Citation will still leave a blemish on the record of the contractor, and if anyone checks with the Board he or she will be informed of the Citation, which is a form of legal action. If the orders in a Citation are not satisfied within the time stated in the Citation, the license is subject to automatic suspension.
HOW TO CONTEST A CITATION
Upon receipt of a Citation, the contractor has 15 days to file a Notice of Defense with the Contractors' Board. This Notice tells the Board that the Contractor seeks to contest the charges against it. The Notice of Defense allows the contractor to contest all or just portions of the Citation. The Contractor will then be given a hearing date where he or she can present evidence and argue why the Citation is wrong. The contractor also will have an opportunity to get documents from the Contractors' Board, and will have to provide its own documents to the Contractors' Board. A contractor is allowed to use an attorney at the hearing, or may represent him or her self on his or her own. However, that may not always be a good idea.
The other form of charging instrument is called an Accusation. An Accusation seeks, in addition to a civil penalty and/or a corrective order, to suspend or revoke the license of the contractor. Because of that big difference between it and the Citation, an attorney should definitely be retained immediately if a contractor is served with an Accusation. Even if the contractor feels that an attorney is not needed, or he or she does not have the means to hire an attorney immediately, the Notice of Defense should be submitted immediately to the Contractors' Board. Thereafter the contractor should seek the assistance of a competent attorney.
THE HEARING PROCESS AND PROPOSED DECISION
Whether a contractor has been served with an Accusation or a Citation, after contesting the charges and the exchange of documents, the contractor is entitled to a hearing. That hearing is before an Administrative Law Judge and conducted at the Office of Administrative Hearings. While it is conducted somewhat like a civil trial, many of the procedures of a civil trial are not followed. These include some of the common evidence exclusions. That is to say, in a disciplinary hearing more evidence comes in than at a civil trial.
After the close of the hearing, the Administrative Law Judge will issue what is called a "Proposed Decision." That Proposed Decision is given to the Registrar of Contractors, who acts as the judge. In fact, he is the ultimate decision maker. The Registrar may adopt the Proposed Decision, may modify it, or may enter a completely different Decision. However, it is most common that the Registrar adopts the Proposed Decision in its entirety.
Typically, the Decision of the Registrar becomes effective 30 days from the date that the Registrar signed it. That 30 days is also the period in which you may request that the Registrar reconsider his decision. If the contractor is still unhappy with the decision, and the Registrar has not granted you reconsideration of his decision, the contractor must then resort to the courts for relief.
THE WRIT PROCESS
Once 30 days from the date of the Decision of the Registrar has passed, the Registrar no longer has jurisdiction to modify the Decision (unless the Registrar had previously agreed to reconsider his Decision and granted a stay of the Decision). Thereafter, the contractor must go to the Superior Court for relief. The process is known as a "Writ Petition." The Superior Court will conduct an independent review of all of the evidence that was presented at the Administrative Hearing, and determine whether or not there was a "substantial basis" for the decision that was rendered. Unlike the Administrative Hearing, where the agency must prove by clear and convincing evidence to a reasonable certainty that the contractor did what it was accused of, the Superior Court merely reviews the record and determines whether it feels that it is more likely than not that the Registrar reached a decision that was reasonable based on the evidence before the Administrative Law Judge.
It is very important to know that the Superior Court, except in very rare circumstances, is not allowed to consider evidence that was not presented to the Administrative Law Judge.
If the Superior Court agrees with the contractor, and believes that the hearing was not proper, or believes that a different decision was appropriate based upon the evidence, the Superior Court will grant what is called a "Writ of Mandamus." That Writ orders the Registrar to enter a different decision in accordance with the ruling of the Superior Court. If that occurs or does not occur, either party may then appeal to the Court of Appeal for further relief.
The information contained herein is a summary, and is not intended to fully inform or educate you as to the entire disciplinary process of the Contractors' State License Board. Should a contractor be served with a Citation or Accusation, it is very important that it immediately consult with competent counsel who are experienced in these matters.
Visit the Contractor's State License Board web site at: www.cslb.ca.gov/