This post is another in a series of Dan Klau mini-tirades against the judicial application of General Statutes § 1-2z–the statutory “plain meaning rule”–to legal texts that are not statutes. As I have said before, and now say once again, the plain language of § 1-2z makes clear that it only applies to statutes. Thus, it does not apply to administrative regulations, local ordinances or, in my opinion, the Practice Book. Yet the state Supreme Court appears to disagree.
General Statutes section 1-2z has been on my mind lately. While pondering it, the thought occured to me that, construed literally, the statute asks judges to do the impossible. Allow me to explain.
It has been more than twelve years since the General Assembly overruled State v. Courchesne and codified the “plain meaning rule” in General Statutes § 1-2z. The plain meaning rule says that a court shall not consult extra-textual evidence of the meaning of the statute unless the statutory text, read in context, is ambiguous.
Implicit in the rule, then, is the proposition that legislative history is useful information. It can be helpful to ascertaining the meaning of a statute. But the plain meaning rule says it is only helpful if the text is ambiguous.
While doing some research this morning, I happened upon a wonderful quote by the great Second Circuit judge Learned Hand on the issue of statutory interpretation. The quote seemed particularly apt with King v. Burwell still very much on my mind. Here’s the quote (from Cabell v. Markham, 148 F.2d 737 (2d Cir. 1945)):
The decisions are legion in which [courts] have refused to be bound by the letter, when it frustrates the patent purpose of the whole statute. . . . As Holmes, J., said in a much-quoted passage from Johnson v. United States, 163 F. 30, 32, 18 L.R.A., N.S., 1194: “it is not an adequate discharge of duty for courts to say: We see what you are driving at, but you have not said it, and therefore we shall go on as before.” . . . Of course it is true that the words used, even in their literal sense, are the primary, and ordinarily the most reliable, source of interpreting the meaning of any writing: be it a statute, a contract, or anything else. But it is one of the surest indexes of a mature and developed jurisprudence not to make a fortress out of the dictionary; but to remember that statutes always have some purpose or object to accomplish, whose sympathetic and imaginative discovery is the surest guide to their meaning. (Emphasis supplied.)
[UPDATE: 4/28/15] A learned member of the bar points out, quite accurately, that the approach to statutory interpretation described above is difficult to reconcile with General Statutes section 1-2z, about which I’ve blogged at length in the past.
So much ink has been spilled in anticipation of, and in the 48 hours since, the oral argument in King v. Burwell that I have not felt I had anything meaningful to contribute. For readers who are not very familiar with King v. Burwell, it is the U.S. Supreme Court case about whether the Affordable Care Act only authorizes subsidies for individuals who purchase insurance on state-operated insurance exchanges, or whether subsidies are also available to citizens of states that did not create their own exchange and, therefore, who purchase insurance through the federal exchange. The plaintiffs in King v. Burwell argue the text of the ACA clearly and unambiguously supports the former position, while the ACA’s defenders, including the Obama administration, argue that the text of the act clearly and unambiguously supports the latter position.
This post is about how General Statutes section 1-2z, which codifies the “plain meaning rule” of statutory interpretation, can lead to judicial interpretations of statutes that are completely at odds with what everyone knows the legislature actually intended when passing a law. To illustrate my point, I examine legislation enacted in 2013 concerning homicide photographs.
In Part One of my two-part series on interpreting administrative regulations, I discussed my disagreement with the Connecticut Supreme Court’s position, set forth in Sarrazin v. Coastal, Inc., that General Statutes section 1-2z applies to administrative regulations–given that the plain language of 1-2z refers only to “statutes.” In this post I discuss my disagreement with the Court’s position that an administrative agency’s interpretation of its own regulation is not entitled to any deference unless it is “time-tested, reasonable or the result of formal rule-making procedures.”
I hope everyone who celebrates Easter enjoyed the holiday! Now, back to work.
Last Thursday the Connecticut Supreme Court issued its slip opinion in Sarrazin v. Coastal, Inc., a case concerning the circumstances under which an employee’s “travel time” between his home and work must be treated as compensable work time under state or federal wage and hour law. The case is a must-read for employment lawyers, which I am not. What attracted my interest was the Court’s discussion about how administrative regulations should be interpreted. First, the Court stated that General Statutes section 1-2z–which codifies the “plain meaning rule”–applies to administrative regulations. Second, it concluded that the State Department of Labor’s interpretation of its own administrative regulation (31-60-10) was not entitled to any judicial deference.
I respectfully dissent from both of these conclusions. This post addresses the first issue, to wit, the relevance of section 1-2z to interpreting administrative regulations. A subsequent post will address the issue of deference. Read the rest of this entry »
The Hartford Courant has an editorial today about an unfortunate dispute that has been brewing over at Connecticut’s Office of Governmental Accountability (“OGA”). The dispute is over who has the authority to evaluate the OGA executive administrator’s performance. Read the rest of this entry »