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Paid a civil engineer a retainer and now can't reach him.....

Walnut Creek, CA |

I paid a civil engineer a retainer fee of $1400.00 to survey a property I'd like to build a home on. He initially postponed the start date twice. I shuffled my schedule to meet him on the third date but since I had other commitments in the afternoon and could not wait for him, left the check of $1400.00 as a retainer at the property. He came later that afternoon (Friday) and performed about 10 minutes of work, went straight to the bank and deposited the check. We spoke briefly as I had an odd feeling. He assured me that he'd be back on Monday, the latest on Tuesday. He never showed up and does not return calls. What is my legal recourse? Thank you very much.

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Attorney answers 3


I am really sorry for your problem. Need more facts.First ASK a copy of the paid check from your bank.
Do you have Identification info about that person? How did you find them? Did you checked if they are licensed or their license is suspended. Next step is certified letter return receipt requested by USPS, Small Claims court and report against his professional body

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Thank you very much for your advice Athina, that really helps.


Send this CA licensed civil engineer a registered letter letting him know that you are preparing a complaint to the CA Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, Geologists and Geophysicists. Direct his attention to the Board's rules and regs for professional misconduct, and request a refund of your money.

If you don't get the refund within 5 days, here is where you can and should complain:

I predict that you will get your refund. I represent many CA licensed civil engineers and other CA licensees and almost all of them are too intelligent to allow any small-bore dispute to cause them to get sucked into the maw of the Dept of Consumer Affairs investigative process and license enforcement. Even when the licensee is wholly without fault, battling out of a formal complaint can cost the licensee at least 5 - 10 grand. If there is any finding of violation of professional standards, the penalties and associated costs can reach tens of thousands of dollars. I would like to believe that all licensed engineers are too good at math to gamble with their licenses, livelihood, future rights to practice in the field, potential administrative penalties, attorney fees for defense -- over a $1400 dispute! I am certain that all of my clients are too smart for such nonsense.

You may want to consider printing and including this response with your letter to the civil engineer you want your refund from. Perhaps he has not yet looked at the issue with his basic arithmetic skills engaged.

You can also bring a small claims action. Your complaint to the licensing agency will not be affected if you do, even if you do not win in the small claim. The licensing agency will conduct an independent investigation and reach an independent conclusion, and the issues are not the same as in small claims court.

Good luck to you.

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Thank you very much for your advice Christine, that really helps.


First, check and see if this individual has a license. You also may want to check with the Consumer Fraud Division of the District Attorneys Office and file a claim with them. He may have cheated many other people and the District Attorney may be looking for him also or in the alternative they may have information they can share with you.

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Thank you very much for your advice John, that really helps.

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