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Dismissal Obtained – CPA Firm Prosecution Dismissed

     Attorney Jeffrey T. McGuire of Cipriani & Werner’s [“C&W”] Harrisburg, Pennsylvania office obtained a dismissal of the licensing complaints before the Pennsylvania State Board of Accountancy [“Board”]. The case arose when the CPA firm renewed its license. The firm renewed online and paid the renewal fee with a credit card. The firm then mailed their Peer Review Acceptance Letter [“Letter”] the next day.1 The Board never processed the renewal claiming they never received the Letter. However they accepted and never returned the application nor the application fee. Thereafter, the Board suspended the firm’s license to practice and never notified the firm that they had done so.     Two years later, at the next renewal, the firm first learned that its prior renewal had not been accepted and they were without a license. The firm then promptly filed a reactivation application and was granted a license. The prosecutor for the Department of State then brought a licensing violation claim against the firm alleging that the firm had practiced without a license.     A hearing was held before a Hearing Examiner for the Department of State who, after hearing all the evidence determined that the case should be dismissed. Because the firm had completed the entire renewal process and the Board failed to provide any notice to the firm that its license was not renewed while at the same time accepting the application and fee, the Board was equitably estopped from prosecuting. The firm was justified in relying on the silence of the Board to mean that its license was active. For these reasons, the Hearing Examiner recommended that the charges be dismissed.     Thereafter, the Board, as was its right, issued a notice of intent to review and the Prosecutor filed exceptions. The prosecutor argued that there was no evidence that the Peer Review Acceptance Letter was ever sent, despite the clear testimony to the contrary, and therefore, that the firm practiced without a license and should be subject to a substantial fine. The Prosecutor further argued that there could not be justified reliance because the firm never received a copy of its license in the mail.     The Board agreed with the Hearing Examiner and dismissed the charges. The Prosecutor did not appeal the Board’s decision.

1The Pennsylvania CPA Law requires firms to periodically undergo a peer review. Although the renewal process has now changed, at the time of the firm’s renewal a copy of the Peer Review Acceptance letter was required to be provided to the Pennsylvania State Board of Accountancy. Today a firm merely must certify that they have undergone their required peer review.