Rules of Statutory Construction (transcript)

Today’s post is on rules of statutory construction primarily for the non-lawyer.

For those working in and around the California State Capitol, it’s important to understand general rules of statutory construction whether you’re a lawyer or a non-lawyer.

The general rule of statutory construction is to effectuate the intent of the Legislature, which basically requires the courts to give the statutory language its usual and ordinary meaning.

The fundamental rule of statutory construction is known as the plain language rule. Basically, this rule provides that when the meaning of a statute is clear and unambiguous, there’s usually no need for a court to apply any of those rules of statutory construction because the plain meaning of the statute can be ascertained without resorting to what we call the use of extrinsic aids to help in understanding the language.

Under this rule, if the statute is clear then the courts presume the Legislature meant what they wrote in the statute and the courts give effect to the plain meaning of that statute.

In order to resort to the general rules of statutory construction, a court must determine that there’s ambiguity in the statutory language and as a result it’s unclear what was intended by the Legislature in enacting the particular statute. The courts have determined that a party demonstrates statutory ambiguity by providing an alternative meaning to the statutory language and, as a result, the statutory language can be given more than one interpretation, then a court generally should consider extrinsic aids to determine the purpose of the statute and the intent of the Legislature.

Among the extrinsic aids are the legislative history of the statute, the public policy surrounding its enactment, the statutory scheme in which the language is found, and other related issues. In this regard, the language of a statute should be construed in light of the rest of the statutory scheme in which the particular statute is found. The goal of the court is to harmonize the parts of the statute by considering the context of the statutory framework in which this particular statute is found.


Court Cases Related to California’s Legislative Process (transcript)

Today’s post is an overview of specified court cases related to California’s legislative process.

As you can imagine, there are a number California Appellate Court decisions that related to the legislative process. These cases deal with a number of separate and distinct issues. While I don’t cover all of them, there are some major cases that capitol observers and insiders should be aware of.

The first one is Kaufman & Broad Communities v. Performance Plastering which was a California in Appellate Court decision 2005. The 3rd District Court of Appeal clarified that a determination of the existence of any ambiguity occurs not at the time of a motion for judicial notice but by the panel of judges that hear the appeal. The case has been cited more than 80 times by other appellate courts in California for what documents may be utilized to ascertain legislative intent in interpreting statutes.

Another case you should aware of is Yamaha – Yamaha Corporation of America v. the State Board of Equalization. This case was decided by the California Supreme Court in 1998. The decision says that in general the deference afforded to an agency’s interpretation of a statute by the agency that is charged with enforcing and interpreting that statute will vary based on a legally informed and common sense assessment of the statute’s context.

The next case of interest is Association for Retarded Citizens v. Department of Developmental Services. It was decided in 1985 by the California Supreme Court. The lawsuit alleged that certain spending decisions issued by the Director of the department were void. The Court entered an order granting a preliminary injunction at the lower level and said administrative action that is not authorized by or is inconsistent with acts of the Legislature is void.

This is just a sampling of the cases I go over in today’s podcast.




How To Research California Legislative History and Legislative Intent

Today’s podcast is about getting a better understanding of California legislative history and intent research. Of course, many law review articles and books have been written on legislative history and intent. This podcast covers the subject in a summary fashion.

At a minimum, it is a good idea to cross reference one’s understanding of a proposed legislative solution with the statements of legislative intent that you can glean from the bill’s legislative history. My friend, Carolina Rose, identified a couple of reasons why:

  1. California codes’ statutes are rife with ambiguities that the courts will look to the legislative history in an attempt to clarify.
  2. The courts will overlook a statute’s plain meaning if it collides with evidence of the legislator’s actual intent, or it is an effort to avoid an absurd application.
  3. Courts will also look to legislative history to confirm their own plain reading of a statute.

Both attorneys and State Capitol watchers would do well to understand that evidence of California legislative history and intent serves as an important aid for interpreting statutes and understanding what was intended by the California Legislature in enacting a particular new law or amending an existing law.

In general, evidence of legislative intent can be derived from two primary sources, either an intrinsic analysis of the statute and its surrounding statutory context, according to traditional standards and principles of statutory construction; or by the use of extrinsic aids which are used to reconstruct the legislative history of a statute.

The wider historical circumstances that surround the adoption, or amendment, or repeal of a statute can also yield extrinsic evidence of legislative intent that’s found outside the statute itself. There are a few questions that interested persons should ask to help guide their efforts in properly researching legislative history. Again, these questions come from my friend Carolina Rose:

  • What is the plain meaning of the language in statute, and to what extent is that meaning self-evident?
  • Why was the statute adopted?
  • What need or needs prompted it?
  • What problem or problems was the Legislature trying to correct?
  • What happened in the Legislature during the process of adopting the bill? What’s the statutes legislative history?
  • What was the law prior to the adoption of the statute?
  • What has happened since the statute was adopted?

As for where you can find the resources to help answer those questions, you’ll have to listen to the podcast.