Attorney General: Honorable John A. Connelly, Department of Public Safety, 1998-006 Formal Opinion, Attorney General of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal

May 19, 1998

Honorable John A. Connelly
Department of Public Safety
1111 Country Club Road
Middletown, CT 06457-9294

Dear Commissioner Connelly:

Your department requests clarification of a previously issued opinion regarding the question of whether interior designers, practicing within the scope of services described in Conn. Gen. Stat.  20-377k, may submit plans and specifications to a licensed building official for issuance of a building permit for a structure or addition classified in any of the specific groups enumerated in Conn. Gen. Stat.  29-276c. Our advice is sought specifically on the issue of whether a licensed architect or professional engineer is required to seal plans and specifications for work on the structures or additions specified in Conn. Gen. Stat.  29-276c(b), when such plans and specifications are prepared by interior designers. It is our opinion that sealing, by a licensed architect or professional engineer, is required of plans and specifications for work on the structures or additions specified in Conn. Gen. Stat.  29-276c(b) unless such work falls specifically within the services described in Conn. Gen. Stat.  20-377k and does not constitute the practice of architecture or engineering.

In a letter dated January 24, 1994, to your department and the Department of Consumer Protection, we advised that to the extent an interior designer's work does not constitute the practice of architecture or engineering, that work should be reviewed by building officials without the stamp or seal of a licensed architect or engineer. Conn. Gen. Stat. 29-263. See Letter to Commissioners Cioffi and Schaffer, dated January 24, 1994. We also advised at that time that Conn. Gen. Stat.  29-276c mandates that plans and specifications for specified structures or additions of certain use groups must be sealed by a licensed architect or professional engineer.

Conn. Gen. Stat.  29-276c(a) provides, in relevant part, as follows:

Notwithstanding the provisions of chapter 390, if a proposed structure or addition is classified in any use group specified in subdivision (1) to (3), inclusive, of subsection (b) of this section, the plans and specifications for such structure or addition shall be sealed by a licensed architect or professional engineer . . . .

Subsection (b) of section 29-276c provides:

Prior to issuance of a certificate of occupancy for a proposed structure or addition classified in any use group specified in subdivision (1) to (3) inclusive, of this subsection, the local building official shall require a statement signed by the architect or professional engineer and by the general contractor involved in the construction of such structure or addition affirming their professional opinion that the completed structure or addition is in substantial compliance with the approved plans and specifications on file with such building official. The use groups referred to in this section, as defined in the State Building Code, shall include: (1) Assembly, educational, institutional, high hazard, transient residential, which includes hotels, motels, rooming or boarding houses, dormitories or similar buildings, other than residential buildings designed to be occupied by one or more families, without limitation as to size or number of stories, (2) business, factory and industrial, mercantile, moderate and low hazard storage, having three stories or more or exceeding thirty thousand square feet total gross area, and, (3) nontransient residential dwellings having more than sixteen units or twenty-four thousand square feet total gross area per building.

Where a statute is clear and unambiguous there is no need to look further than the words used because the words are assumed to express the legislative intent. Office of Consumer Counsel v. Dept. of Public Utility Control, 234 Conn. 624, 646, 662 A.2d 1251 (1995). Moreover, it is well-established that specific terms covering a given subject matter in a statute will prevail over general language of the same or another statute which might otherwise prove controlling. Plourde v. Liburdi, 207 Conn. 412, 417, 540 A.2d 1054 (1988); Gifford v. Freedom of Information Commission, 227 Conn. 641, 652, 631 A.2d 252 (1993). In the present matter, Conn. Gen. Stat.  29-276c is clear and unambiguous. It provides that plans and specifications, for certain enumerated proposed structures or additions, must be sealed by a licensed architect or professional engineer, notwithstanding the provisions of Chapter 390, the architectural licensing chapter.

The statutes in Chapter 390 of the General Statutes which are relevant to your inquiry are Conn. Gen. Stat.  20-293 and 20-298. Conn. Gen. Stat.  20-293 directs building officials to only accept or approve plans or specifications of buildings or structures that are stamped with the seal of a licensed architect or licensed professional engineer, unless those plans or specifications are exempted under the provisions of Conn. Gen. Stat.  20-298. Conn. Gen. Stat.  20-298 provides, in relevant part, as follows:

The following activities are exempted from the provisions of this chapter [chapter 390]: . . . (b) the construction or alteration of a residential building to provide dwelling space for not more than two families, or of a private garage or other accessory building intended for use with such residential building, or any farm building or structure for agricultural use . . ., (h) the making of plans and specifications for or supervising the erection of any building containing less that five thousand square feet total area; the making of plans and specifications for or supervising the erection of any addition containing less than five thousand square feet total area to any building; the making of alterations to any existing buildings containing less than five thousand square feet total area; provided this subsection shall not be construed to exempt from the operation of the other provisions of this chapter alterations in buildings of more than five thousand square feet total area, involving the safety or stability of such buildings . . . .

The language "notwithstanding chapter 390" indicates that plans and specifications that would otherwise be governed by chapter 390, are governed, not by chapter 390, but by Conn. Gen. Stat.  29-276c. See, e.g. Gifford, 227 Conn. at 654. In other words, the "notwithstanding" clause means that plans and specifications for structures or additions falling within the specified use groups must be sealed by a licensed architect or professional engineer and that the exemptions set forth in Conn. Gen. Stat.  20-298 do not apply to the requirements of section 29-276c. We note, however, that the requirements of Conn. Gen. Stat.  29-276c do not affect the ability of interior designers to prepare and submit plans and specifications as provided for under Conn. Gen. Stat.  20-377k. The "notwithstanding" language of Conn. Gen. Stat.  29-276c does not encompass chapter 396a, under which Conn. Gen. Stat.  20-377k is codified.

Conn. Gen. Stat.  20-377k defines an "interior designer" as "a person qualified by education, experience and examination who (A) identifies, researches and creatively solves problems pertaining to the function and quality of the interior environment; and (B) performs services relative to interior spaces, including programming, design analysis, space planning and aesthetics, using specialized knowledge of non-load-bearing interior construction, building systems and components, building codes, equipment, materials and furnishings; and (C) prepares plans and specifications for non-load-bearing interior construction, materials, finishes, space planning, reflected ceiling plans, furnishings, fixtures and equipment relative to the design of interior spaces in order to enhance and protect the health, safety and welfare of the public." It is our opinion that plans for any architectural or engineering work on the structures or additions specified in Conn. Gen. Stat.  29-276c(b) must be sealed by a licensed architect or engineer. To the extent that work to be performed by an interior designer is limited to interior design work specified in Conn. Gen. Stat.  20-377k and does not constitute the practice of architecture or engineering, such plans and specifications need not be under the seal of a licensed architect or professional engineer, even if the interior design work is being performed on a structure or addition in the use groups specified in Conn. Gen. Stat.  29-276c (b).

Very truly yours,

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL
ATTORNEY GENERAL

Henri Alexandre
Assistant Attorney General

RB/HA


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