From AP: MIDDLETOWN, Ohio (AP) — An appeals court has agreed with an Ohio woman who said her parking citation should be tossed because the village law was missing a comma.
Andrea Cammelleri (kah-meh-LEHR’-ee) says she shouldn’t have been issued a citation in 2014 based on the wording of the law enacted by the village of West Jefferson.
The law lists several types of vehicles that can’t be parked longer than 24 hours, including a “motor vehicle camper,” with the comma missing between “vehicle” and “camper.”
Cammelleri says her pickup truck did not fit that definition.”
Cammelleri showed that the municipal ordinance prohibited “any motor vehicle camper, trailer, farm implement and/or non-motorized vehicle” from daylong parking. Since her truck was not a “motor vehicle camper,” i.e. simply a “motor vehicle”, it wasn’t covered under the law.
The Village claimed the law’s meaning was clear in “context” and that the missing comma was simply a typo. The trial court ruled in favor of the Village.
In overturning the lower court, Judge Robert Hendrickson of the 12th Ohio District Court of Appeals began with a recitation of standard operating procedure for statutory interpretation:
Interpretation of a statute or ordinance is a matter of law, and thus, the proper standard of review is de novo. State v. Straley, 139 Ohio St.3d 339, 2014 The paramount concern is determining legislative intent in enacting the statute. State ex rel. Steele v. Morrissey, 103 Ohio St.3d 355, 2004 To discern this intent by looking at the language used in the statute itself, we must read words and phrases in context and construe them in accordance with rules of grammar and common usage. State ex rel. Choices for S.W. City Schools v. Anthony, 108 Ohio St.3d 1, 2005 “[I]f such intent is clearly expressed therein, the statute may not be restricted, constricted, qualified, narrowed, enlarged or abridged.” State ex rel. McGraw v. Gorman, 17 Ohio St.3d147, 149 (1985). In other words, if the meaning is unambiguous and definite, then the statute is to be applied as written and needs no further interpretation. State ex rel. Herman v. Klopfleisch, 72 Ohio St.3d 581, 584 (1995).
Judge Hendrickson went on to say:
By utilizing rules of grammar and employing the common meaning of terms, “motor vehicle camper” has a clear definition that does not produce an absurd result. If the village desires a different reading, it should amend the ordinance and insert a comma between the phrase “motor vehicle” and the word “camper.” As written, however, legislative intent is clear from looking at the language used in the ordinance itself. (emphasis added) (Court opinion here)
It should therefore come as no surprise that when a Court decides to ignore the Standard Operating Procedure for interpreting statutes, simply to achieve a desired outcome, you end up with a dissent like this:
I wholeheartedly agree with the Court that sound interpretation requires paying attention to the whole law, not homing in on isolated words or even isolated sections. Context always matters. Let us not forget, however, why context matters: It is a tool for understanding the terms of the law, not an excuse for rewriting them. Any effort to understand rather than to rewrite a law must accept and apply the presumption that lawmakers use words in “their natural and ordinary signification.” Pensacola Telegraph Co. v. Western Union Telegraph Co., 96 U. S. 1, 12 (1878). Ordinary connotation does not always prevail, but the more unnatural the proposed interpretation of a law, the more compelling the contextual evidence must be to show that it is correct. Today’s interpretation is not merely unnatural; it is unheard of. Who would ever have dreamt that “Exchange establishedby the State” means “Exchange established by the State or the Federal Government”? (emphasis added) (King v. Burwell, Scalia dissenting, pg. 3)
The somersaults of statutory interpretation [the Court has] performed (‘penalty’ means tax, ‘further [Medicaid] payments to the State’ means only incremental Medicaid payments to the State, ‘established by the State’ means not established by the State) will be cited by litigants endlessly, to the confusion of honest jurisprudence. And the cases will publish forever the discouraging truth that the Supreme Court of the United States favors some laws over others, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to uphold and assist its favorites. (King v. Burwell, Scalia dissenting, pg. 21)