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January 16, 2008

A Recent Case on Plain Meaning

There have been several interesting cases on plain meaning, not so much for their outcomes, but for their observations about the process.

One interesting case, for example, is In re Gray, 378 B.R. 728 (D. Mass. Dec. 7, 2007). (For some reason a direct link to the opinion wouldn't work, so this will get you to the page, and then scroll down to the Gray opinion of 12/7/07.)  The case was about a fairly unimportant issue in the cosmic scheme of things -- whether the Massachusetts Homestead statute permitted debtors in a bankruptcy proceeding from exempting their mobile home which sat on land that the debtors did not own, but which they instead leased from another.

The statute: "An estate of homestead to the extent of $500,00 in the land and buildings may be acquired pursuant to this chapter by an owner or owners of a home or one or all who rightfully possess the premise by lease or otherwise and who occupy or intend to occupy said home as a principal residence." Mass. Gen Laws. ch. 188, Sec. 1.

The trailer was worth less than $500,000, and the owners intended to occupy it as their residence. The issue was whether the statute, because of its phrase "land and buildings" precluded someone from claiming a mobile home as a homestead where they did own the building but not "and" the land.  In a thoughtful opinion by Chief Judge Henry J. Boroff, the court held that the statute included mobile homes where the owner leased the land.  Even though relying on a "plain meaning" approach, the opinion had to address various canons of construction and other interpretive problems. It's quite an interesting read.

January 16, 2008 in Current Affairs | Permalink


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Welcome back. And I hope all is well with you. Your blog is an important source of information for me. Just how much I really didn't realize until your absence.

Posted by: Jerry Stephens | Jan 17, 2008 6:55:33 AM

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