Legal Memorandum: Court Guidelines for Interpreting a Statute

Issue: Under Minnesota law, what guidelines does a court use in construing the language of a statute?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Interpreting a statute; Court; Plain and ordinary meaning
Jurisdiction: Minnesota
Cited Cases: None
Cited Statutes: Minn. Stat. § 645.26, subd. 1
Date: 07/01/2014

            In State v. Irby, No. A11-1852 (Minn. Jul. 2, 2014) the court explained that “[w]hen interpreting a statute we give words and phrases their plain and ordinary meaning.”  The Minnesota Supreme Court has long recognized that, “[w]e must, if possible, avoid an interpretation which renders a complete sentence of the statute surplusage and so in effect amends the law by striking out that sentence.”  Cohen v. Gould, 225 N.W. 435, 438 (Minn. 1928).

Where sentences are deemed to be in conflict, “the more specific provision controls over the more general.”  AFSCME Council No. 14 v. Washington County Bd. Of Comm’rs, 527 N.W.2d 127, 132-33 (Minn. Ct. App. 1995).  “When a general provision in a law is in conflict with a special provision in the same or another law, the two shall be construed, if possible, so that effect may be given to both.  If the conflict between the two provisions be irreconcilable, the special provision shall prevail and shall be construed as an exception to the general provision.”  Minn. Stat. § 645.26, subd. 1. 


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