Mapping startup files counter suit after being sued by surveying regulatory board
The Mississippi Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Surveyors says that drawing lines on satellite images using public information is the "unlicensed practice of surveying" and is seeking to shut down the startup that's doing it.
A public interest law firm representing the firm Vizaline LLC says the regulatory standard being applied by the board could result in the shutdown of Google Maps, Zillow and other map-based apps in Mississippi.
The Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm that takes on cases involving economic freedom, private property rights, educational choice and the First Amendment, filed a counter suit on behalf of Vizaline Tuesday.
The licensure board filed a lawsuit last year in Madison County Chancery Court against Vizaline, which specializes in drawing up surveys of smaller properties used as collateral in loans given by small, community banks. They want Vizaline to return all of the fees to its customers, which would bankrupt the company.
Vizaline filed a counter suit Tuesday with the assistance of the Institute for Justice. The counter suit is based on First Amendment grounds and says that the board is standing in the way of the Vizaline's right to provide information to willing consumers.
Vizaline takes a publicly-available legal description of a bank’s property, enters those parameters into a computer program that generates a line drawing of the property description. The program then overlays those drawings onto satellite photographs. The company already employs six workers in Mississippi and works with 30 banks in five states.
This service helps smaller banks because it allows them to identify and resolve any discrepancies that might require the assistant of a surveyor and/or an attorney.
The Mississippi Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Surveyors doesn't accuse Vizaline of engaging in traditional surveying with their computer generated imagery. Instead, its attorneys argue that drawing lines on publicly-available maps or survey plans constitutes surveying and thus requires a license. Vizaline doesn't conduct surveys or place survey markers.
A surveying license in Mississippi requires a bachelor's degree in geomatics, surveying or surveying technology, passage of three examinations and between three to seven years of surveying experience.
Vizaline was the brainchild of Mississippi entrepreneurs Scott Dow and Brent Melton. Melton retired after 42 years in the banking industry. Dow came from the networking, remote sensing and geospatial modeling worlds and started his first company while still in college.
They met at the Mississippi Enterprise for Technology at the Stennis Space Center where Melton presented his idea before a group of tech entrepreneurs. The Viza-plat arrived on the market in April 2014.
While community banks noticed the idea and immediately started to order them, the licensure board noticed as well. In May 2015, the board demanded that Vizaline place a disclaimer on its website that said that its work was not intended for use as a survey. The firm complied with the board's request.