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Home / Firm Blog / Litigation / Last Antecedent Rule Used in Hardaway v County of Wayne
09
November
2012

Last Antecedent Rule Used in Hardaway v County of Wayne

In Hardaway v. County of Wayne (https://publicdocs.courts.mi.gov:81/OPINIONS/FINAL/COA/20121030_C300079_47_300079.OPN.PDF) the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the Wayne Circuit Court's decision regarding statutory construction.  The statute gives benefits to "an appointee other than a member of a board or commission who is confirmed by the County Commission."
The plaintiff was an appointee, was not a member of a board or commission, and was not confirmed by the County Commission.  The Wayne County Circuit Court granted summary disposition for the County, finding that the plaintiff was an appointee who was not confirmed by the County Commission.  The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed, using the last antecedent rule to find that the plaintiff was covered by the statute.
As drafted, the phrase, “an appointee other than a member of a board or commission who is confirmed by the County Commission pursuant to Section 3.115(4) of the Wayne County Charter,” is equally susceptible to more than one meaning.  The phrase could be read to provide benefits to an appointee who is confirmed by the County Commission, but is not  a member of a board or commission, or the phrase could be read to provide benefits to any appointee, whether confirmed or not, so long as that appointee was not confirmed by the commission to membership of a board or commission.  Given this ambiguity, judicial construction is required to determine, from the plain meaning of the text, the intent of the Wayne County Commission in adopting this resolution.
“The ‘last antecedent’ rule of statutory construction provides that a modifying or restrictive word or clause contained in a statute is confined solely to the immediately preceding clause or last antecedent, unless something in the statute requires a different interpretation.”  Stanton v City of Battle Creek, 466 Mich 611, 616; 647 NW2d 508 (2002).  The modifying and restrictive phrase at issue in the instant resolution are the words “who is confirmed by the County Commission pursuant to Section 3.115(4) of the Wayne County Charter.”  Applying this restrictive phrase to the immediately preceding clause, or last antecedent, the court concluded that benefits are available to any appointee, so long as the appointee was not confirmed by the County Commission to membership of a board or commission.
Because plaintiff was an appointee and was not confirmed by the Wayne County Commission as a member of a board or commission, the court found that she is eligible for the benefits she claims.  The court stated that defendant did not show that anything else in the resolution requires a different interpretation.  The court acknowledged that the result is questionable, but that courts are tasked only with “the important, but yet limited, duty to read into and interpret what the Legislature has actually made the law,” which required them to interpret it as written.   Mayor of City of Lansing, 470 Mich at 161.

Categories: Case Summaries, Litigation

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