A startup company that provides information to banks or other lenders about properties on which they’re lending money – using publicly available information and aerial or satellite images – is suing over First Amendment violations after the state of Mississippi ordered it to close and return all its revenue.
The Institute for Justice, representing Vizaline LLC and co-founder Brent Melton, filed the suit challenging the state of Mississippi.
The state previously sued them for “unlicensed surveying” and demanded that the company stop operating and “have all its earnings returned to its customers.
“Vizaline provides a cost-effective way for banks to assess small, less expensive properties within their portfolios. It puts the public legal description of a property into a computer program in order to generate an outline of the property, which is then placed over a satellite photo of the property,” IJ said.
“This helps banks ‘see’ their different properties and assess whether a surveyor and lawyer are needed to further verify the property or resolve any discrepancies in the legal description.”
IJ Senior Attorney Paul Avelar said that using public data “to draw lines on satellite photos is not surveying, it’s free speech,”
“You don’t need the government’s permission to use existing information to create new information and sell it to willing customers,” he argued.
The complaint from the Mississippi Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Surveyors contended using public information requires a license that it issues.
IJ said Vizaline’s case “is part of a growing, nationwide trend of occupational licensing boards restricting speech.”
“In 2011, the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition ordered paleo-diet blogger Steve Cooksey to stop providing online dietary advice. In 2013, the Kentucky Board of Examiners of Psychology accused family psychologist John Rosemond of the unlicensed practice of psychology because of advice published in his nationally-syndicated newspaper column.”
There also have been cases in recent months over licenses for braiding hair.
“This is just the latest example of a licensing board needlessly expanding its authority to hinder new competition,” said IJ Attorney Johanna Talcott. “The government should step out of the way and allow an innovative business like Vizaline to continue serving its customers.”
The program is intended to help banks, especially small community banks, that don’t want to hire a surveyor each time they look at a request for lending.
“Vizaline is facing the wrath of a powerful regulatory board made up of professional engineers and surveyors who want to protect themselves from competition and who want to drive Vizaline out of Mississippi and out of business,” IJ said.
Others that could be targeted if the state agency wins are Google Maps and Zillow.