The State of California’s STAR program certifies independent businesses as smog check stations that can provide testing and repair. If your establishment is one of the many STAR-certified facilities in California, you have probably come to depend on the business that comes in for smog checks and repairs. What would happen to your company if you lost that business?
The Bureau of Automotive Repair, or BAR, regulates the STAR program, including granting and revoking STAR certification to automobile inspection facilities. The BAR sends out hundreds of STAR invalidation notices to businesses each year, but at least some of those notices appear to overstate actions, conduct, or omissions by businesses as actions warranting invalidation. Those overstatements could result in a station needlessly losing certification unless swift action is taken in response.
Simas & Associates, Ltd. recently helped one California technician overturn an erroneous invalidation notice—by mail. There was no interruption of his business, and no one had to go to court. Keep reading to learn how we were able to help, and what to do if your business receives an invalidation notice.
A STAR Certification Disqualification Case Study
The BAR sent a notice to a California technician of being disqualified, but the notice was erroneous. There were several problems with the initial disqualification notice that our attorneys spotted right away:
- The letter set an informal hearing with no charges. Even an informal proceeding requires adequate due process, including notice of the charges against our client in a meaningful manner so that he will be able to defend them. The alleged Notice of STAR Certification and Validation letter sent to our client provided no such notice of charges. Furthermore, there was no meet-and-confer over the timing of the hearing
- The letter stated that The Short Term Measures score for our client did not meet the minimum criteria. The BAR, however, provided neither the scores upon which they were relying, nor the minimum criteria to remain in the STAR Program. What scores for what period of time failed to meet what minimum criteria? Without this information, the letter was meaningless, as it did not provide notice to our client of what measuring stick he failed to meet. The letter from the BAR also failed to allege any specific bases for decertifying our client—other than the aforementioned unidentified deficient score.
- This decertification letter from the BAR proposed an informal hearing as the next step. In this case, an informal hearing did not comply with Government Code, section 11445.10, which describes when an informal process is appropriate. An informal hearing procedure must satisfy due process and provide a forum for our clients to be heard. Due to the lack of notice and information provided in the decertification letter, there was no way our clients could provide a meaningful defense.
We immediately confronted the BAR with all of the above deficiencies. Furthermore, we requested discovery and more information on the alleged deficient scoring. This resulted in the BAR conducting a more thorough review of the allegations. When the BAR completed this review, the disqualification was successfully overturned—without ever going to a hearing.
Protecting Your STAR Certification
Your STAR certification may depend on specific metrics, but the conditions that produce those numbers are full of variation. Equipment can fail, and technicians can be incompetent. The accuracy of metrics, and even the BAR’s processes can be called into question in a hearing.
Navigating the STAR certification process can be complex, but here is some practical advice from Simas & Associates, Ltd. to California mechanics and automotive technicians:
- Watch Out—Be on the lookout for correspondence from the BAR regarding your STAR certification.
- Act Quickly—If you receive a similar notification, contact your attorney right away.
- Don’t Panic—You can keep your STAR certification during the hearing and appeals process.
STAR certification cannot be invalidated by the BAR without evidence and a formal administrative process, overseen by an administrative law judge, in which the BAR must comply with the discovery rules within the Government Code. This is where your attorney can help you—the Government Code is complex, and there are numerous strategies for fighting the disqualification of your STAR certification.
STAR Invalidation Help
Receiving a notice that you may be losing the ability to perform the majority of your business can be scary, particularly when it comes from with a government agency like the Bureau of Automotive Repair. If you do lose that certification, several restrictions can hinder or prolong getting it back.
If your business receives an invalidation notice from the BAR, don’t hesitate to contact your attorney. If you are dealing with a similar situation, and need the help of an experienced attorney, contact us online or call 888-999-0008.