On January 1, 2013, the Bureau of Automotive Repair (“BAR”) replaced its former “Gold Shield” program with STAR certification. The STAR program is the Bureau’s certification program that applies to a Registered Automotive Repair Dealer that is also a licensed smog check test-and-repair station or a test-only station that meets specific requirements under the law.
To become STAR certified, a Bureau-licensed smog shop must apply for certification and meet inspection-based performance standards. STAR certification provides the smog station the exclusive authority to inspect particular vehicles called “directed” and “gross-polluting” vehicles. Non-STAR-certified licensees cannot perform these types of inspections.
For clients of Simas & Associates, the STAR certification is valuable and brings in business. For this reason, BAR licensees must consider it in any action against them, including a simple citation.
One of the most common ways the Bureau can easily invalidate a STAR certification of a smog check station is by issuing a citation against the STAR station, manager, or any licensed technician employed by the station for nearly any smog check violation.
Appealing a STAR certification invalidation –will it work?
A shop whose STAR certification is invalidated by BAR has the right to appeal the invalidation and have a separate administrative hearing on that issue. If the licensee requests a hearing after the STAR invalidation, the Bureau must hold a hearing within ten days of the receipt of the request before the Bureau Chief or his designee. If the licensee is not satisfied with the first level decision, the licensee may contest the finding and request a full administrative hearing under the Administrative Procedure Act.
Despite this appearance of due process and the ability to contest a STAR-decertification, smog shops face a tremendous hurdle. Because there are two separate administrative proceedings involving the appeal of a citation and the appeal of STAR certification invalidation, shops facing STAR decertification usually have already paid their citation, admitted negative findings against them, and have little chance at prevailing in their STAR appeal.
Citations as grounds for STAR certification invalidation
While many types of licensing agencies use citations, BAR uses them frequently for minor violations of the Health and Safety Code and BAR regulations. At first blush, a $500.00 or $1,000.00 citation does not seem significant and certainly does not seem to require the smog station or licensee to retain a lawyer. But that is not true for several reasons.
First, citations do not go away on shops’ records; BAR uses them later to build a stronger case for further and more severe discipline. Thus, even the most minor citation will be grounds for increased penalties and scrutiny at a later date.
Second, because most citations and the violations contained in them will certainly serve as grounds for STAR invalidation, any shop that pays a citation is admitting that grounds for decertification of its STAR certification exist! And because the citation appeal almost always precedes the STAR decertification notice, the shop has little or no chance of prevailing in the STAR certification appeal process. It is simply too late.
Finally, BAR is keeping track of all citations and consumer complaints to use against licensees later. At a recent informal conference, one of Simas & Associates Ltd.’s clients was shocked to see a laundry list of alleged complaints against his shop that he had never
heard about from BAR. While the purpose of the informal conference was simply to informally review issues with the licensee, the Bureau had armed itself with a long list of ammunition to use against a shop owner who would not comply with its requests.
Recommended Action When Facing BAR Citation
Do not pay a BAR citation without first consulting with BAR-experienced legal counsel. They should be able to examine the circumstances of the citations and determine the potential consequences. Paying a citation to resolve a minor issue with the BAR could lead to STAR decertification in many instances, even in seemingly unrelated instances. Citations seem innocuous and innocent but never are. They can even lead to future license discipline. The Bureau is watching and keeping track of citations, consumer complaints, and any violations, and will use them against you in the future when you least expect it.