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Legal Memorandum: Principles of Statutory Construction in CA

Issue: Under California law, what are the rules governing statutory construction?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Statutory construction; Applicable principles; Legislative intent
Jurisdiction: California
Cited Cases: 24 Cal. 3d 836; 9 Cal. 4th 263
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 11/01/2008

A number of rules govern exercises in statutory construction, the most important of which were summarized by the court in Lennane v. Franchise Tax Bd. (1994) 9 Cal. 4th 263:

The applicable principles of statutory construction are well settled.  In construing statutes, we must determine and effectuate legislative intent.  To ascertain intent, we look first to the words of the statute, giving them their usual and ordinary meaning.  If there is no ambiguity in the language of the statute, then the Legislature is presumed to have meant what it said, and the plain meaning of the language governs.  Where the statute is clear, courts will not interpret away clear language in favor of an ambiguity that does not exist.

 

Id. at 268 (citations & internal quotation marks omitted).  However, if a statute is susceptible to more than one interpretation, its meaning should be determined in light of its legislative intent.  Cal. Mfgrs. Ass’n v. Pub. Util. Comm’n (1979) 24 Cal. 3d 836, 846.

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