August 22, 2007
The statute is not a model of clarity
I had some fun today and westlaw'ed that phrase (okay, "fun" is a word only a law prof would use to describe that activity). I figured that was a phrase a court would use to describe statutes that it found to be incomprehensibly mangled. It is, and it often leads to dissents: Benavides v. U.S., __ F.3d __, 2007 WL 2340780 (5th Cir. 2007) (split opinion on whether punitive damages in wrongful death case were taxable); L.A. Unified Sch. Dist. v. Sup. Ct., 60 Cal.Rptr.2d 445 (Cal. App. 2007) (holding that a city was a "person" under a statute which was "not a model of clarity" because otherwise it would lead to absurd results); Benesowtiz v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 2007 WL 1826921 (Ct. App. N.Y. 2007) (answering certified question from Second Circuit on question of meaning of an insurance statute which was (ta da) "not a model of clarity").
I don't know why today that struck me as something to look for, but there you go. I haven't seen any "canon of construction for statutes that are not models of clarity," but I suppose it's coming.
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